"Indian Media - Politically Free, Prisoners of Profit" - P.Sainath
Newsclick Production, 20-Jun-2011
Eminent commentator and rural affairs editor of The Hindu newspaper, P.Sainath speaks to Newsclick on media discourse and other issues related to the "Fourth Estate".
Srinivasan Ramani (SR): Hello and welcome to the Newclick. We have with us reputed commentator and rural affairs editor for The Hindu, Mr. P. Sainath with whom we will discuss today, issues related to media and particularly nature of media discourse today. Mr. Sainath, A.K. Antony, the defence Minister recently said the other day there is a transparency revolution going on in country today and which has not spared any one from any of these four estates the polity, the executive, the legislature, the judiciary and the media. In your opinion is this scrutiny substantive enough or is it superficial.
P. Sainath (PS): What you are watching is Hamlet being staged without the prince of Denmark. You are watching saturation coverage of nothing much. The largest entities, the corporations and corporates corruption which are central to all your giants scams which are going on are completely absent in this. The demands are made over a bribe here or a bribe there nothing to do with the massive explosions of corruption scandals as corporate powers have grown in ascendancy in the last twenty years. So you are talking about the corruption in the abstract. Now about the different four estates being covered, that is absolutely nonsense. There is total silence on corruption in the media. The couple of newspapers have written about it, spoken about it. Otherwise it is completely blotted out of the system. Even if you were to say, look at the Radia tapes, they have been given a decent burial. Now the Radia tapes were not so much about the media in my opinion. Media appeared as little bit players of comedians in the whole show. What the Radia tapes showed is who is running the country. What kind of corruption was possible where the corporate houses could determine who would be ministers, which portfolio he would get, which minister would be shifted to which portfolio and everything they discussed happens and then you have Mr. Tata running to the supreme court to see that the tapes cannot be made public. Absolutely no outcry over this in the media. What about this. Why are they scared of investigating that corruption. Now, once you get specific, you are going to get into lot of trouble on what's being covered. Of all the scams, the UPA there are two a day. One scam that virtually disappeared and nobody wants to look into it is the Devas Antrix Spectrum scam. There is complete silence. Too many people too many people, too many beautiful people, the class we call the PLUs, the people like us. Too many of them are implicated and you get into the Devas ISRO Spectrum scam, it's going to leave very very high, institutionally and individually. There is no discussion of this. It is the abstract of somebody fighting corruption. There is no discussion of this. It is the abstract of somebody fighting corruption. SR: In all sense what is being focussed, in all sense it is malfeasances, misbehaviour or untoward thing that Minister or someone in power does. PS: Well, let me put it in greater clarity. What you are looking at. See what are sources of corruption in India. Now everyone has his own corruption story. There are many and you have to grand that but I would say there are three sources without fighting which you are not going to get anywhere special. One is structural inequalities in Indian society that includes caste, gender and everything but the structural inequalities of the Indian society are one of the major sources of corruption because of the powerlessness and power the ability to hold people for ransom that comes from structural inequalities. The second source is the policies which have always in independent India has favoured the powerful in independent India but which in the last twenty years have deepened the inequalities at an exponential rate. So the policies that are positively designed to favour corporate interest and therefore you have seen to favour corporate interest and therefore you have seen the corresponding explosion of the corruption but we are not making the corruption but we are not making the connection. Third source is what I call the Indian society's culture of arbitrariness and impunity. A judge bans bandh because his car got caught in the traffic to the way to airport. You get away with this. The culture of impunity and arbitrariness it also reflects some of the civil societies groups activities where we demand to rewrite constitution, have a panel and we will decide who will decide who will sit on the panel. That's also the part of culture of arbitrariness, the sense of entitlement of the upper classes. These three sources, if you are not able to battle this or combat this you are not in the anti-corruption game in my opinion. You are on the fringes.
SR: corporatisation of the media. You yourself have written extensively on the symptoms of corporatisation in terms of the paid news, private treaties..etc..could you eloborate a bit for us again?
PS: In the last twenty twenty five years, what you have seen is a kind of globalisation of media and also in a period where it is finance capital in the ascendancy. In the eighties, we spoke of the media monopolies that is no longer relevant. The media monopolies are now a part of much larger conglomerate monopolies. ATNT, General Electric, Seagram all these giant monopolies you have this giant conglomerates which are into million things. Gulf and western you know have hundred and fifty lines of production. The media a part of this are a part of those. Until this January, NBC which was the fourth largest network TV of America and once the world's largest TV network, was owned for several years by radio corporation of American which was the seventh largest contractor to the Pentagon. Every western missile has radio corporation of America missile the guidance computer is RCA who takes over everything, General Electric which was the second biggest contractor surely, one of the largest military contractor in the world. What implications does that have for the contact and the content. Are you then going to have NBC fighting against the weaponisation against the expanding arms market. What you call the military industrial complex is actually now a military industrial informational cultural complex. Now this doesn't mean that the routine media function ceases to operate. But they operate very differently from how they did thirty years ago. There are spaces, there are zones of autonomy fast shrinking. Take the world's largest media houses whether in the world or in India, please go and visit their boards and see how many journalists are sitting on the board. Journalism is an irrelevant trivial by product what they do. It's not irrelevant but it is important but it is a buy product of what they do. It has to serve what they do. Now, on the Dainik Jagran Board, you would find the South Asia head of McDonald. You find a representative of the board of General Electric and another guy who has been a member of board of Raytheon Corporation. Most of these guys cannot speak or read Hindi. But, what's it got to do with Journalism. They are there for a conglomerate to maximize profit. That is they good at that. The third thing is media is interlocked into hundreds of other sectors. Now, here is the key for you and your viewers to understand what is happening in India how it is different from the conglomerate media at the global level. There is a specific Indian character. According to me, we are seeing a phenomenal convergence of corporate world, media world, political world, and finally business. Now, the Marans are the phenomenal example of this convergence. Family business, ministerial powers, information and communication business and business as business. So these are converging very fast. You can look at in Punjab, you can look at in Maharashtra. The owner of one of the most powerful newspaper in the state of Maharashtra is your Union Agriculture Minister who also owns the largest agricultural supplement newspaper in Maharashtra called Agro one. He is also the head of the BCCI. So he is in that business. He is cricket business. He is agricultural business. He is in big agri business. He is in newspaper business. He is the union minister for agriculture.
SR: some suspect he has also ties with real estate business.
PS: I think he owns the real estate business. Lokmat, the fourth largest newspaper group in the country, not only fourth largest group, largest in Maharashtra. One brother is a member of parliament in Delhi. The other brother is a minister in the Maharashtra cabinet who used to be a minister of state but got to be minister of full cabinet rank. What happened for his promotion. It is called Ahsok Namah. The Ashok Chavan paid news game happened in that period and the gentlemen got a promotion from being nothing to going up. The paid news peg is worth in Maharashtra alone at least a thousand crores in the last assembly election. It is literally is a manufacturing content. Paid news is the death of journalism. It is drive by corporate interest, it is driven by corporate interest, it is drive by corporate greed and profit and there is outright lying to the readers and viewers is a perfectly normal practice. In television, some of the economic channels, each line is a reference to your company is sold and paid for. I always said the Indian media that it is politically free imprisoned by profit. Now how are these ties going to take position on corruption when the owner of the company and the owner of the media is in the dock on the 2G scam. The head of the family that owns sakal is your union agriculture minister is involved in the one scam after the other after the IPL. For Sharad Pawar, IPL, BPL, APL there is no big difference. It's all money. So he is in it. Now, how will those newspapers will take up the issues of corruption because the convergence has happened.
SR: That brings us to more contemporary and relevant issue. Only last week we saw very strong editorials against what newspaper proprietors claim the interference from the government ...vis-a-vis the government recommendations that have come from Justice Majithia wage board.
PS: Many armed forces officers were telling me, they were laughing about the campaign against the wage board by the Times of India and by this institution, the Indian Newspapers Society. The armed forces officers were pointing out to be, they are writing what these people want is more than what our jawans get at the border. They said when the pay commission for those guys were on, there was not a word in media. There were editors who said why should it be increased. Now they have become patriotic and worried about the jawans on the border when they have to pay their peons a little bit more. Secondly, there is complete falsification of figure and deliberate alarm-ism built into it that the peon will earn for. You know there are journalists in top newspapers of this country in Mumbai, in a city of Mumbai's cost, the journalist with three years experience who regularly feature on the front page of newspapers who take on less than sixteen thousand rupees a month. Now, their salary structure is inflated and shown wrongly a large part of your salary is called variable performance component and they tell you on the start you can never get more than sixty percent of this. TVM or VPC different newspapers call it. So you start out with a salary package of 28,000 – 30,000, you are taking home 15,000 – 16,000 . Now, it is true that the same newspaper there are journalists next to those journalists who are earning phenomenal salaries. Now, you are able to give one percent phenomenal salaries and make huge profits by creating huge inequalities between different categories within categories of journalists. If you are I both are Assistant Editors, I might be earning more than you in terms of my seniority, I may be earning more than in terms of incentive or payment given to me but it cannot be five times what you are earning if we are both in the same category. Second is, notice that this entire campaign is being conducted without any opportunity for the other side to reply. Zero opportunity. The editorial pages are being use. The advertisements are used to bombard the public and you haven't even heard what the other argument is. You know when the armed forces officers are finding it funny they want to know what is the position of the journalist is because we don't see anything. Newspapers that are making this, yes, they would have to end up paying their top one percent less if they implement the wage board but they still making huge profit most of them.