Hartosh Bal Singh: Is the Media Compromised?

(This post is written by Aditya Vikram Yadav who is yet to learn the mysterious and magical ways of operating a WordPress account.)

Hartosh Singh Bal with the Public Law and Policy Discussion Group

Hartosh Singh Bal with the Public Law and Policy Discussion Group

The Public Law and Policy Discussion Group (PLPDG) had its second guest speaker, Hartosh Singh Bal from Caravan Magazine to speak on the topic of the Media, on how and why it seems to be compromised in our neoliberal setup, and on the reasons and extent of any biases which might exist, considering the fact that the General Elections are a month away, and that the penetration of all forms of Media, either through television, social media, magazines and newspapers or even community radio is rather extensive. The danger, as Mr. Bal highlighted, was not that media organisations had an ideological bent, as it is impossible not to, but that such stances are almost never declared for the receiver to use the given ideological filter while distinguishing it from the news. The second danger was in merging news and opinion, as both of these are two distinct aspects of reportage, and the ideological bent is only to be reflected in the latter, while news in itself has to be objective and complete in itself. What appears to be happening in most media organisations and conglomerates is that the news is given a tint of bias without the disclosure of any such bias, and the same goes against the most basic principles of free and fair journalism.

Mr. Bal is the Political Editor of the Caravan Magazine, and was until recently the Editor of Open Magazine, which had created waves in the media ever since it had published the Niira Radia tapes, along with many pathbreaking stories after that. Mr. Bal has also worked with Mail Today, Indian Express and India Today in a career spanning over two decades. He was otherwise an engineering graduate from BITS Pilani, and a post graduate in Mathematics from NYU, after which he joined print media as a journalist. Throughout his career, Mr. Bal has maintained an independence of thought and writing which is rather peculiar and rare in the nature of the media today.

The discussion started with a monologue on the crux of the systemic issues the media faces today, after which questions from the audience were answered at length, with a very frank and lucid set of answers, generously sprinkled with real life examples. The explanation, as Mr. Bal put it, was that Indian media, especially electronic media was just not making money. It was argued that among the 200 odd TV News channels, only one was making profits, with the others having consistent operating losses, and still continuing to ‘make’ news. The question he drove the audience towards was why a conglomerate or an individual would continue to pump money into an enterprise which makes sustained losses. The answer was because the losses suffered were peanuts when compared to the influence, bargaining power and leverage it bought to the owning group or individual, which is why more individuals line up by the day to own print and electronic media houses, knowing fully well that it does not make economic sense.

The second aspect discussed was that of media independence, within which editorial and journalistic independence was discussed. The first aspect was again brought into focus, as private ownership would necessarily imply interference in the policy which the group sets for itself. The reason given here was that even though the levels of interference may differ, it is to be seen that controversial stories are either steered clear of, or negotiated to be buried before they are even published. The example of Mr. Bal’s resignation from the Open was a case in point, so was the infamous Zee News-Jindal ‘Sting’ Operation, along with the example cited by the speaker of the Radia Tapes. Mr. Bal said that the tapes were available with all media houses four odd months before they were finally published by the Open and Outlook Magazine, while being blocked out by all others.

Questions regarding the upcoming elections were also asked, and the speaker surprised us with statistics on the scale at which the elections are happening, and the sources and quantum of monetary resources being expended by candidates and parties. An observation about the skewed discourse on Narendra Modi’s candidature was also made, saying that he is referred to and represented as the saviour of the nation from all its ills, as if he is a demi god, whereas a rational analysis should lead to both pros and cons, as Mr. Modi has both. The travesty is, that after such an analysis, he may not emerge to be thedemi god the media and the party have made him out to be. Overall, it was a constructive and enlightening discourse which left the audience with fundamental doubts as to the media and its organisation, and the implied acceptance we have of what we read in the media.

The PLPDG has organized a talk by renowned journalist P. Sainath, ‘How the Other Half Dies’, a discussion on inequality and governance in the past 10-15 years for tomorrow, April 3 at 6 pm. This will be preceded by a screening of Deepa Bhatia’s film ‘Nero’s Guests’, on Sainath’s work in rural India on the issue of farmer suicides by the Cinema Club at 5 pm. It promises to be an engaging and insightful talk, and while I apologize for the delay in this report because of the exams, I promise a timely report on tomorrow’s talk. Hope to see you there!

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