Ladies and gentlemen, I feel this is a very good initiative on the part of National Journalist welfare board Orissa branch, to organize seminar on the “Accountability of media for the common public” on the eve of national press day. I am also happy that you have invited me all the way from Delhi to deliver keynote address for this function. You have also invited many dignitaries and media person for their viewpoint and their perspective on this very topic.
Ladies and gentlemen, No doubt, Media day by day is becoming inseparable part of our whole system. We can not complete any task of nation building or making public opinion for any kind of social change without taking the help of media. But despite all this what I think, the existing Mass Media, it does not come under any solid category, What I mean to say, does mass media really work as fourth estate of democracy? Does mass media really act as a mission for the social change in the country? Is mass media erupting as an emerging industry of our national economy? To some extent you can say mass media is a mix of above all those thing, to sum up, this is an agent of publicity or opinion building to some bit, which can not be completely rated as a representative of any single big category of a democracy.
First of all I will talk about mass media as a fourth estate of democracy. It is very commonly said that media is fourth pillar of democracy. No democracy can survive without the existence of free press. It means media will work as fourth pillar along with legislature, executive and judiciary on the basis of separation of power comprised with mutual checks and balances which is one of the basic theories of democracy.
Media, as fourth estate of democracy—I would like to say this saying is just a prevalent and conventional conception; it does not have any legal or constitutional validity. Tell me, in which constitution, it is mentioned that mass media will work as an institution which will keep it parallel to the other 3 prescribed pillars of democracy.
In order to this, Let us talk about the biggest democratic constitution of world, the Indian constitution; our constitution does not mention at all that free press will be here which will work as fourth pillar in India. Only our index of fundamental rights under article 18, it is said we will have the freedom of expression for all citizens of country. Only this one line of fundamental right allows us to express any thing against any individuals or institutions. In the same way if anyone has money or capital, he can establish a media organization or a newspaper to say anything against anyone. Under this perception the institutional establishment of mass media organization has nothing to do with the constitutional requirement of the country.
Now we try to look into the status of media in the context of public requirement. The word mass media literally means the media for the masses. Do you think, in India, media is really attached with the all masses of the country; means are all citizens of the country networked with the mass media, whether it is newspaper, radio, TV or internet. Despite the rapid growth of mass media still only 20 percent of population read newspaper in the country. Less than 50 percent population view TV or listen radio, less than 10 percent population have access to internet.
Second question is that, have concern of all masses of the country been covered in mass media in an appropriate way? So far the size of media coverage is concerned, in India; media is still in the ambit of mouthpiece arena rather than medium for the masses. There is no adequate space for the common citizen other than politicians, film stars and cricketers and some newsmaker kind of things in our mass media. What I mean to say, India requires equality of expression rather than freedom of expression, equality of expression can only guarantee the democratic need of one billion people of the country. Unfortunately it did not happen in the country. In last 60 year, the journey of mass media has been full of many hotchpotches.
Now we come on the second perception, does mass media work as a mission in India?. We always expect mass media to work in a missionary manner and thus we want it to go all out against all kinds of exploitations occurring in the society, to oppose all kind of injustice, to oppose all kind of maladministration and bad governances, irregularities, backwardness, oppressions etc which are occurring in the society. In order to that media has to always work for the betterment, for the welfare of the masses. I think there are no problems for the media to play such kind of role rather media has been doing this job quite nicely in yesteryears. But the most important question is who will sustain the media? Who will be the caretakers of media? Who will hold the viability of mass media? Who will guarantee the smooth career of all media people who are working in innumerable small, medium and large media organizations of the country?
Mass media organization need the cost and return balances just like any other business organizations. Any mass media organization whether it is newspaper or radio station or TV channels or a news website or outdoor media, it needs investment on account of both fixed capital and variable cost so that it can be operated and sustained for the longer period of time. We all know that the selling of newspaper, viewing of TV channels, or subscribing of news website, what we pay for them, It hardly constitute a fraction of its total cost. Newspaper is the only industry in the world, which products are sold at below cost of production. Any manufacturing industry despite the presence of a tough competitive environment, always have a cost plus pricing of their product, but the newspaper industry is exception. Though even in some European countries, newspapers are sold free of cost. There is same case with the news channels, what they get out of pay channel subscription, it hardly constitute a fraction of their cost. So under this scenario how can we say mass media can work as an industry? We must know this fact; the majority of costs of a media organization come through advertisement. The advertisement, which is a kind of information which comes directly from the informers and it, is paid coverage items which may be contradictory to the editorial contents like news, analysis or investigation reports or footages, which are unpaid one.
Nowadays we hear a lot about Paid news. There is big uproar over it. I am not going to say this is bad or good. But there are many questions which have to be redefined before the general public. One must know that almost all mass media are being feeded news by PR companies and PR departments. These organization work for corporate, politician and political parties, work for government depts., NGO and social organizations, film world etc. these agencies take money out of these organization’s publicity budget. They give their news and publicity material to different Mass media under this very perception that they will carry these news under media’s social commitment. I don’t say that under this process, media people are not being pampered, they are being given party and gift etc. they are given priority while giving facilities on the part of publicity seeker organizations. But, now media masters have decided to take charges for those news coverage especially during elections time, which is being called paid news. It is to be clearly stated, we have plethora of news items, and they all want to get publicized. In this context media people and desk coordinator play their power and whims and fancies. In this circumstances, what we see many valid and remarkable news item are not getting covered.
We all know lots of blackmailing and bargaining are taking place while covering any news items. It is very difficult which are PR Kind of news and which one is socially and national important news. We have many people who are ready to expend their budget in order to getting publicity of individuals or product or organization. But we do not have news ethics; it is left either over tradition or over discretion of media people. It is unfortunate we have very few media people who regard their media profession in a missionary manner; they do not have proper judgment and appropriate observation regarding their news planning, news selection and its placement. For them media is also just like another job.
The biggest difficulty under this system is that one who does not have paying capacity; his genuine concern get ignored by the capitalist media. I think if we have genuine advertisement policy, at least on the part of government, these problems might have been averted. The main parameter of today’s advertisement is number of circulation and TRP. This is the root cause of the entire problem. In order to enhance circulation and TRP, media become poised to carry all sensational and spicy news to any extent. So what we see media are hugely after sex, violence and all kind of yellow journalism because they want to have more and more readership and viewership anyhow so that they can have more say over advertisement. The slab rates of advertisement are decided shier on the basis of these points. Govt. must give preference to those kind of content of journalism which can ensure the solemn objectives of media, to provide information, education, awareness, knowledge and all kind of empowerment which can raise voice against all kinds of odds in forms of injustice, exploitation, inequalities, human rights and backwardness etc. if good content being made one of the fundamental criteria for getting advt., many evils of mass media will automatically go away. But the problem is that intention of government is not good, they pamper only those media who somehow favors govt. The impartiality, neutrality, the objectivity of coverage items and wide public concern, these are the factor which our media house must follow and govt. should frame media policy on this line.
Coming on the advertisement front, we all know there is farce competition among different media set ups to garner more and more advertisement. It is decided by what, it is circulation numbers for the print medium, it is TRP for the TV channels, it is log in numbers for the news website etc. The TRP and circulation ratings are the factors which are always on the top of minds of all media organizations. The idealistic perception of news coverage, which is based on giving priority to welfare of the masses have gone to the backburner now and all those coverage have come in the forefront , which has a more revenue potential for a media organizations. In order to this, all those coverage which has the capacity to capture the psyche of readers or audiences, are always taken into account by the media organizations. So we have always high readership or viewer ship of nude photograph, crime and sex coverage and all the sensational kind of thing which has nothing to do with the lot of masses. This is as much true as political party, who opt those kind of issues in order to attract and collect the people which are very easy to use, like caste, community, language and region kinds of issues, these factors have been always proved to be very easy to galvanize the people . In the same way it is very easy for a mass media whether it is newspaper or TV channel or a cinema to sensationalize the public on sex, violence nudity and various non sense negative kinds of things because people have psyche to get in touch with this issue. It consequences all ethics of mass media gets buried and good media finds it in hobnobbing situation.
We have many examples when a media set up became popular overnight by covering sensational kind of things, a politician got popular after the deliverance of riotous speech. Under these circumstances it is very difficult to decide an ideal benchmark for a mass media organization. It can not fully adopt missionary approach, because it has to survive financially. It can not work as an industry, because there is a big gap between its cost and return. It can not work as fourth estate of democracy because it does not have constitutional validity. It can not adopt ethics, because it has to blindly go for high TRP in order to generate revenue. So ultimately a proper reconciliation between market and public interest is needed for the mass media. It is true, both are contradictory to each other, but the reality is that a proper equilibrium is always needed between them.
In the meantime what we see the black money, the hawala money is coming in a big way in Mass Media, It is not the debt capital from the commercial banks, which is coming in media, Because this black money holder knows it very well that he is not going to get a proper return over his black money’s investment, he only needs a armory out of this investment in media which could pass on his other business and other activities through the safe pass.
At last the plight of journalist especially the career of young journalist invites us for a very detail discussion. I think the class who goes all against all kind of exploitation prevailing in the society, himself a great exploited lot in many ways. Our government, the main regulator of our society, is stick with accreditation and press club only so far their intervention in mass media is concerned. Govt should go much beyond of it and must provide a numbers of majors for the complete welfare of all media people in the country.
(This lecture was delivered by Manohar Manoj, Editor& publisher, Economy India, president, Bharitya Yuva Patrakar Sangthan on the eve of national press day function, organized at Bhubaneswar on 16-11-2011)