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Media today is just a department of giant corporations: P Sainath

“Eminent journalist, freelancer and teacher P Sainath, whose rural reporting, has been a trend-setter, addressed the media fraternity, as part of a Chandigarh Press Club series on Monday; says media industry has been reduced to a bargaining chip”

Chandigarh : Pointing out to the divorce and disconnect between media and journalism, eminent journalist, freelancer and rural reporter P Sainath said journalism was a calling, but media has morphed into a business.

He started off his talk with the pithy observation, “The media, today, is politically-free, but imprisoned by profit.”

“Yesterday’s media monopolies are a small part of today’s large conglomerates,” he added, pointing out to the fact that this was a Indian as well as a global reality. “It is because of this that I have seen journalists lose jobs because their writings have offended Amit Shah,” he added.

On business interests and media working for each other, he added that the owners of the corporatized media were the biggest beneficiaries of any privatisation undertaken by the government and this naturally blurred the lines.

“Political families have entered media, and business. There are no two ways about it,” he added.

‘69% of population
gets less than 1% space’

Coming to his second theme of the talk, titled ‘Media and its challenges’, he added am analysis had shown that in the main stream media, less than 1% (.67%) of front-page space was devoted to issues of those from the deprived sections, even as they formed 69% of the population.

“The questions media owners tend to ask is how much revenue does covering this 69% of population give me and thus we have the disconnect between mass media and mass reality,” he said, to an engrossed audience.

In TV, he said, sponsors dictate content, further sharpening the divide between media and journalism.

‘Thin line between PR
and media thinning’

Pointing out that over the years, there had been a significant overlap between media industry and the PR industry, he added this presented a challenge to all right-thinking practioners.

“This revolving door between PR, think tanks and then back to the newspapers media is something that deserves a clear, hard-headed look.”

Use internet, don’t
romanticise it

Adding that digital spaces or media remained an option for those disillusioned with the scenario, he had this to say, “Here’s the problem with the NET. It guarantees you a voice, but it does not guarantee that you will be heard.”

“The biggest and nastiest monopolies in history are digital monopolies and they have one thing no other monopoly has; your data,” he added.

“Use the net, don’t romanticize it,” was his advice

‘Possible way-outs’

Offering solutions, he said the answer as always lay in the basics.

“Journalism, for me, still remains, one profession that draws people on the basis of ideals; you are an idiot, if you think you can make money if you are a reporter,” he said, to mild applause from the audience.

“The future model of good journalism has to be 5-6 people doing something idealistic and work around limitations. There has to be no government funding or corporate money involved.”

Giving his own example, he said, “He started PARI in 2014. As freelancers, we pitch out content and then the choice is for the media house to take. To generate the content, we depend on individual donations and free labour of IT techies and journalists.”

“In 36 months, we have published, 1,200 pieces multimedia in 13 languages; one piece translated into Punjabi. The question is how to tap into the idealism of the public. There is hope, as there are still people who know and want to encourage good journalism,” he concluded.