Don’t Feel So Good

Culture and Media

Reuben of Zoo Station, posts on the dismal standard of reporting on the monsoon, in The Times of India (via Globalvoices). The English language press, barring a few exceptions like the The Hindu has been tabloid-izing itself for quite some time now. Even in the best of times, most of these newspapers were aligned with the interests of elite Indians or their British overlords; that is, till the political tides changed, but you could at least depend on them for news.

Siddhartha Deb has a very good article on the state of the English Language press in the Columbia Journalism Review. He spoke with several editors and journalists in New Delhi like Umesh Anand, the former editor of Times of India in New Delhi:

Anand said, explaining his growing disenchantment with changes in the mainstream media and his decision to start a small, independent magazine. The management and marketing guys began to dominate the media companies. It’s happened everywhere, but we Indians catch the wave late and repeat the mistakes.” Anand didn’t consider himself biased against market forces, saying that he was all for a free market that allowed him to bring out a magazine like Civil Society. What he objected to was the growing sense of irrelevance about the content of the newspapers: How many naked women do you need to see in the morning?”

What’s wrong with naked women, you might ask. Not much, if that is what the market wants, except that it seems to leave the media impotent when it comes to actually covering what is of relevance to the country. It sabotages any sense of reality about what is going on. A noteworthy example from Deb is about the 2004 elections:

The BJP government had hired a multinational p.r. agency to unleash a $20 million media campaign that was indistinguishable from feelgood.” The BJP campaign used the slogan India Shining,” claiming credit for the transformation of India into a confident, upwardly mobile country. There was nothing controversial about such a claim if one measured it against the booming middle-class neighborhoods in cities like Delhi; these are areas that have benefited hugely from the BJPs economic and political maneuvers and have reciprocated with vociferous support for the party. But the images displayed in the advertisements, on television and in full-page color, showed a broader cross-section of the Indian population: farmers, village girls on bicycles, a Kashmiri Muslim boatman.

Much of the Indian media seemed to take this assessment at face value, predicting a comfortable electoral victory for the BJP, although the predicted margin of victory kept shrinking. As it happened, the ruling coalition lost badly, with the majority of the electorate voting overwhelmingly in favor of the centrist Congress party and its allies on the left.