Newsclick interviewed Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, senior journalist, on the subject of media bias in India. Paranjoy said that big corporates are controlling most of the mainstream media in the country; therefore, they act on their behalf. Since Narendra Modi has been ardent supporter of pro-corporate policies, they were behind him in the last general election and continue to have same attitude for him. Paranjoy also points out the wild attacks and blacking out by the Modi loyalists on the voices of dissent which have been surfacing. Modi and RSS are using the public media in a monolithic way and using all forms of media, including government owned channels like DD and social media, effectively as a propaganda tool to implement their agenda. Paranjoy added that, in the current scenario where RSS backed BJP is forcing its communal agenda; the media has started to crawl in front of them.
Pranjal - Today we have with us Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, senior journalist, media commentator and an economist. Since 2014 election, there is a complete one sided biasness of media that we are seeing. They are playing an important role in opinion making, there is a complete wipe out of the voice of dissent, I mean what do you think what has lead to this changes?
Paranjoy Guha Thakurta - Let us take a few steps back. Let us go back to the situation that was prevailing two years ago. I am saying roughly the middle of 2013. From then onwards, it became apparent. That are very very substantial section of the mass-media in India was going all out for Mr. Narendra Modi, his candidature as a Prime Minister. They were seeking to convert India's multi-party democracy and the general election into a two person contest. Almost it was like an American style Presidential elections. This personalisation of politics happened and by the time, the results, the outcome of the 16th general elections in India were known on 16th of May 2014. It was very very clear that here a substantial section of the media that were going all out rooting for Mr Modi and I must say, Mr. Narendra Modi and his media managers, his spin doctors in the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh made very very astute use of media, including the social media, including Twitter and Facebook to paint him as the person who is going to be bring good times, ' Achhe din aane waale hain ' 2. Simultaneously propagate an overall ideology, not just anti-congress and anti-UPA but very very right of center, very very pro-corporate because the media or a substantial section of the media is controlled by large corporates, this fitted in very very neatly. What happened after that, was that if the media even the right wing media, even the so called right wing liberal commentators in the media, slowly slowly they were getting disillusioned with Mr. Modi. Because those good times are yet to come, investments are yet to happen, those jobs are yet to be created and a thousand and one other things are happening, all of which has dented Mr. Modi, in which as the supreme leader of the second republic of India. Having said this, it is also important to note, that even as this is happening, Mr. Modi's silence is also been questioned. Having said this, let us also look at the way the government is trying and it's spin doctors also trying to deal with this situation, A. They have battalions of trolls. Anybody who is opposed Modi, the so called Modi bhakts or the loyalist of Mr. Modi, they go after any adverse comment against Mr. Modi or government. They come down very viciously. Anonymous trollers ofter using very very wild language. The other thing that is happening is attempts are made to black out those who disagree and stifle all contrarian views or dissenting views.
P - You have raised a very important point. The thing which you are talking about corruption. If you look at pre-2014 period, there was the same media which was going all gaga about the 2G case, the 3G case, about Colgate scam and I mean it played an important role in making an entire opinion against the incumbent Congress government. But if we look at current scenario, things have changed. I mean there are voices which are asking for resignation of these various people which you are named. But still its the media is not fierce in nature, in comparison to what it was. So what do you think has lead to this change?
PG - One of the reason could be Mr. Narendra Modi's honeymoon period is still not over. After all he is been prime minister for a little over 14 months. So in that sense, some of the shine still remains with him. And in the media that is, I mean I would say that is there even among ordinary people as well. At the same time, the realisation has also come, that a large proportion of those eligible to vote in India 31.5% of those eligible to vote did vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party, but what is also become evident today is the very same section of people voted, they are also realising that, despite all the tall claims that were made, despite the expectations that were raised, these expectations have not been fulfilled; whether it is bringing black money from outside the country, whether it is job creation. So having raised these expectations to unrealistically high levels, when the people get disillusioned, they get disillusioned very very quickly and that is exactly the process that is beginning today and on the issue of corruption, as well as on the issue of economic policies, people are asking. A large number of people who voted for Bharatiya Janata Party and voted for Mr. Modi, voted not only because they were adherence to the right wing Hindu ideology of the BJP and the RSS. They also voted because they were unhappy with the Congress and unhappy with the Congress lead UPA government. Now the same sections of people are saying what is the difference? Is there are difference between the Congress lead UPA government and the BJP lead NDA government in terms of; look at the way they have handled the issues related to corruption? And I think there is another factor to that is happened, which is made even the right wing ideologues who were to (?) about Modi disillusioned. They are realising that beyond a point, you can't continue to support a government where power has so centralised in the hands of so few people. Never before since the middle of 70s during the Indira Gandhi's time, during emergency, had we seen so much power being concentrated in so few people? We have seen also cracks within the Sangh Parivar. You seen when they were not in power, they were united, now they are in power, the factionalism within the Sangh Parivar and the voices within, which are critical of Mr. Modi and the government is also being heard.
P - When you talk all these things, do you think there is this Network 18 has been completely owned by Reliance now, so do you think this has an important role to play in this U-turn of media when we take this specific issues?
PG - Let me make two points in this context. The large corporates, the large business houses, the industrial groups, the capitalists of India, they always had control of the media but you could argue, that in recent times, this control has become all pervasive and stronger, And one example is the corporate group headed by the India's richest man Mukesh Ambani controlling one of the India's biggest media conglomerate Network 18 group. We also have Mr. Birla, having lot of interests in the India Today TV group. Having said that, let us also see how Mr. Modi at one level dealing with the same corporate media. It is interesting that the same Mr. Modi, the same BJP were critical of Doordarshan and All India Radio for being a sort of only giving the views of the government, is doing precisely that. Mr Modi, when he goes abroad, and he visited 18 countries in the first year of his term. He has made a point, not to take underage of journalist or so called junket. He is only taking along only All India Radio, Doordarshan, ANI and may be Press Trust of India. So he is very selective in the journalist dealing with. Remember something, Mr Modi is also been very selective in the kinds of interviews he has given to what kind of journalists. Let me say most of the interviews that Mr. Modi has given to very very friendly journalists, who have asked him goody, goody questions, not asked him asked him tough questions. And the other thing is look at the way he is using All India Radio as well, the 'Mann ki Baat'. So it is not a dialogue but a monolog that has happened, But it is interesting because at the same time, you know your actions has to speak louder than your words. The opposition is today saying, the same Mr. Modi who was so talking and he was so willing to criticise his political opponent, now when allegations of corruption have been leveled against ministers belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party, Union ministers, his silence indeed deafening.
P - This government has again said in the court that right to privacy should not be considered as a fundamental right and the second thing is, since the government has come to the power, there was a live telecast of Mohan Bhagwat's speech during Dasara in DD1. I mean it is a national television and government owned television channel. Do you think there is a process towards saffronisation of the media houses and also try to intervene in the personal lives of the individual through media itself?
PG - This government, Mr Narendra Modi, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have a clear social agenda. Let us not forget the facts. Though the BJP had got 31.5% of the popular vote in 2014, out of that 282 members of the Parliament belonging to BJP, out of the 543 members of lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha. You must remember, out of 282 MPs, only two are non-Hindu. They are Buddhists and this in a country when 1 out of 7 Indians is Muslim, roughly 14% percent of the population. There are Muslims in India then albeit two countries in the world. This is one part of the story. The other part of the story is the concerted effort on the part of the current ruling administration to put in their own pursuits in key institutions; education institutions. The attempts is not just to saffronise the media or educational institutions, also the bureaucracy and then defense services and the legal profession and I mean all of that is happening simultaneously. But you know in the process some time, the repository of talent in the Sangh Parivar also shows up and look at the heartedly half handled manner in which a person whose claim to frame is rather dubious has been sort to be made the head of the Film and Television Institute of India.
P - This would be my last question. I remember, during the emergency Advani was saying " when the editors were asked to bend, they are crawling ". So do you think we are living in the same period of undeclared emergency? and if so then what is the way ahead?
PG - Since you quoted Mr. LK Advani, former deputy Prime Minister of India, you should also remember what he has said very recently on the occasion of 48th anniversary of emergency, that happened in June 1975, he also said, the dangers of re-imposition or a new form of a democracy remain and I am not saying this. This is being said by arguably by one of the senior most leader of the BJP and a person who as you rightly pointed out after the emergency had commented about the Indian media that when the editors were asked to bend, they crawl. Today the situation is a little different. That more difficult to reimpose emergency to have a blanket to put all journalist who disagree with you behind bars as Indira Gandhi did. It also the media has changed today with Internet with social media, today with 900 millions mobile in a country of 1.5 billion people with 900 million subscribers identity modules or SIM cards. It is very very difficult to control the media in the manner in which Indira Gandhi impose the emergency in the middle of the 70s between June 1975 and January 1977 March, of course the election took place and she lost. But what is happening, there are far more certain methods of trying to stifle dissent of going after, attacking those who expressed views which are critical of the government. See the ways in which trolls are deployed, to go after the people who expressed views which are contrary to what the BJP or the RSS would like us to believe. That anybody who expresses the dissenting views made out to be a supporter of the congress or the Aam Aadmi Party or they are declared as anti-nationals. So this is the same way in which Doordarshan, All India Radio have been reduced during the emergency as propaganda divisions of the people in power. So at one level, we can't go back to the situation that prevail at 40 years ago but we are seeing different forms of intolerance, different attempts been made by those who are in positions of power in authority and that includes the political leadership, the large corporates attempting to stifle dissent, attempting to black out views that they find inconvenient to suppress unpleasant truths and to ensure that these are not given the kind of publicity or the kind of play or not disseminated widely. These attempts continue to be made but I must say somewhere along the line, the government should realise that is going to be increasingly difficult to do so. Therefore I am a little hopeful, that despite the best attempts made by some people to black out or suppress or sensor dissent, they will not be successful.
P - Thank you Paranjoy for giving us your time.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for Newsclick are typed from a recording of the program. Newsclick cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.