Monday, December 6, 2010

The Media’s Hall of Fame.

The Media’s Hall of Fame.

However much those in the media, ignored by Niira Radia, discuss those who were not, the fact of the matter is, that Niira Radia has established the Indian Media’s First Hall of Fame, a sort of high point for media aspirants. Andy Warhol’s 15 minutes of “notoriety” (“fame” did he say?) would be a churlish way to describe those in the spotlight.

Pain would be bearable if my diminished utility for the likes of Radia was attributable to my declining years. But the truth is mortifying: one never had any utility whatsoever of the variety that would entitle one to a niche in the Hall of Fame. Ridiculous, the waste, sad time!

Just as we must choose our parents with care, so must we choose with care the institutions where we take our first steps. Woe is me: I made bad choices on both counts. Parents emphasized culture, manners, speech, books, morals but not wealth. So I grew up with the wrong values.

The Statesman as a professional nursery was another hopeless choice. We don’t like to increase our circulation, I was told, because being Nehru’s first newspaper, its prestige was national. The Editor, to insulate himself from pressures, had just two friends in New Delhi – one Sinclair of Burmah shell and the other, army chief J N Chaudhury, the latter for being suitably “English”.

With such training, what hope?

To build media empires, seek Rajya Sabha nominations, contest elections, were instincts pulled out of our DNA by those inept choices of parentage and professional nurseries.

Ofcourse, there were those need based transgressions like that Public Relations officer helping a colleague’s name taken off the Press club notice board for non payment of dues. But word was soon out. This one misdemeanour affected the yearly increments.

But pardon me because I am comparing apples and pumpkins. Nostalgia is sometimes unhelpful in analyzing contemporary reality.

The first major hit that rattled the media was Indira Gandhi’s 1975 emergency. It divided the media between those who hated Indira Gandhi and those who hated those who hated Indira Gandhi. The divide has not yet been composed. After she split the Congress in 1969, she depended on the Left. Appeared the 1974 JP movement, backed by Ramnath Goenka, Nanaji Deshmukh and others opposed to the left. The post emergency libertarianism was heavily laced with Hindutva and socialism tolerant of it. It was a promising platform for sections of industry inimical to the Left. The metropolitan media, traditionally westward inclined, also became implacably hostile to Indira Gandhi.

The next major change in the media followed the post Soviet Liberalization of the economy. First, the victorious authors of market economy inaugurated an era of live 24 X 7 global TV with the coverage of operation Desert Storm in 1991.

Almost on cue, the Indian TV opened up. Indeed, it burgeoned.

The linkages between the global media and the new, energetic, untested Indian metropolitan media were not comprehensive but limited and insidious.

The global media would have atleast two sets of software: one for its own viewers, another for the global audience. International affairs, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, Iran, Europe would be controlled from Washington (Atlanta, Georgia) and London. The Indian media would not (could not) take any initiatives in the coverage of world affairs. The line would be “foreign affairs do not give us the TRPs”. If it became essential to use some foreign clip, there were always CNN, BBC, Reuters, AP and Sundry others to oblige.

Has anyone thought of using the RTI to check out the Murdoch, CNN antecedents or linkages of the media currently in the news? Nothing wrong with the links but there are implications for a “self professed” prospective UNSG member.

In earlier days, the journalist had to seek a professionally fruitful and ethical equation only with the governmental establishment. Today, the TV journalist /star is also entrepreneur, worried as much about news as about TRPs, Ads, Corporates, whose money is often keeping the channel buoyant.

The balance of power between the government and the corporates has changed radically, buffetting the TV entrepreneur/ journalist from both. In the confusion, an embassy or two in Chanakyapuri toss in their line. Sometimes the media is rendered so supine by an unnerving coherence between the government, corporates, the MNCs, and the embassies that speakers corner at Hyde Park looms in the mind’s eye as a happy vision of freedom. In that moment of weakness if only Radia would call! But, as in Prufrock, I do not think that she will “sing to me”.

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