The year(s) that changed the Indian media

In 2014, when Mr. Modi swept to power as the PM, people spoke and wrote about a changed India. Now, 3 years later, I think that what it changed more was the Indian media and journalism landscape and that in turn has led to the changes in India we’re seeing now.

(I get that some of these are generalizations and that they are not always true about all issues but they are true about many issues a lot of the time.)

Think about it: you have a Prime Minister, who calls himself the pradhan sewak, but refuses to hold press conferences, does a few interviews, maintains only one-way communication (radio, election speeches, Twitter) and the media accepts it without putting up a fight.

Even that would be okay if the media decided to spend its time researching policies, trying to deconstruct the one-way communication, and doing whatever it could to compensate for the loss of direct questions. What did the media do? They simply accepted the change of communication rules and reported what the PM said, throwing a critical opinion in every once in a while.

Compare that with what the media did during the UPA II regime. It was the media that brought the corruption and other issues to the fore and harangued the government. Now, next to nothing!

The media now spends an inordinate amount of time outraging about issues that are peripheral, or important but not critically important while letting the critical issues go by. Instead of applying critical thinking to the government’s actions, the media accepts what the government is saying and chooses to focus on the “distractions” that conveniently seem to crop up. What the public loses when this happens is the right to be informed about what the government is doing and this in turn slowly leads to weakening of the institutions that are supposed to do the checks and balances.

As I was writing this, here’s what the Executive Editor at India Today tweeted:

More than 350 cows at the Gorakhnath temple Gaushala. Several calves ran to Yogi Adityanath as he reached & gave them Gur & their feed

Of course, this is not a representative sample, and this is a tweet, but it is exactly the sort of thing that the government is happy to have the media focus on, while it does bigger things that don’t get reported too well or not at all.

And, what better way to end this post than to point you to the excellent Meghnad‘s column at Newslaundry: Finance Bill 2017: You’ve just been punked. (As, an aside, while the Finance Bill 2017 was being passed, the media was focused on what the UP CM ate for breakfast and other food-related issues.)

This is peak crisis time for Indian journalism. I really hope that they make it. In the meanwhile, go to the non-traditional media sites like Scroll, The Wire, Newslaundry, which have done a way better job of reporting and critical analysis than the traditional media.

PS: Meghnad’s piece Media failed to cover Finance Bill because Parliament reporting is non-existent gives an excellent account of how the media fails in reporting what goes on in our Parliament.

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