Independence Day thoughts: Is India paying too big a price for media freedom?

NS Venkataraman

NS Venkataraman

By NS Venkataraman

CHENNAI, India, 15 August 2016

India will celebrate yet another Independence Day on 15 August 2016. This independence day and the days that will follow are unlikely to be different from several other previous independence days. Of course, Prime Minister Modi will deliver his speech with his characteristic eloquence and marked style from the Red Fort, with or without a bulletproof enclosure. For a change, Mr Modi has invited suggestions from his countrymen on what he should say during his Independence Day speech. Of course, thousands of suggestions would have come to him and he may even use a few.

In any case, the speech will be heard with rapt attention from the invited audience and with wide telecast throughout the country.

There is no doubt that Prime Minister Modi has been working hard ever since he became the Prime Minister, and he has been striving to bring visible changes in the economic and social face of the country. Certainly, he has succeeded to some extent and several positive schemes are under work in process stage. While some proposals like a land acquisition bill met with severe criticism, the Modi government has been pragmatic to withdraw the bill, responding to the valid criticisms.

Even as the deprived section of our countrymen who live below the poverty line and constitute around 25% of the national population are yet to feel any positive impact on their life conditions from the policy initiatives of the Modi government, nevertheless, it appears that a cross section of the countrymen are still reposing faith on Mr Modi’s commitment and continue to expect that he would bring about what some people call as “miracles”.

Negative picture by media

The problem in India today is that more than the positives, negatives are highlighted by the media and discussed in public forums. There is nothing really wrong about discussing the negatives, but there has to be a sense of proportion, balance, and responsible fairness in discussing the events and developments by the media.

In a vast country like India with population of around 1,250 million, undesirable utterances and acts are bound to take place on any given day in one corner of the country or the other. This would be so, since a vast segment of the national population still live below the poverty line without adequate educational and skill acquisition opportunities and job prospects, and a section of the affluent and privileged class of society seem to think that they can get away with any wrongdoings.

Unfortunately, the Indian media appear to have gone haywire and do not seem to have a code of conduct in reporting matters and events and discussing various view points.

All that is required to get media space for any politician or activist is to say or do something that is obnoxious, which will be immediately highlighted by the visual and print media. There are many good things happening in the country which are rarely discussed at national level and seem to be of no interest to the Indian media. This attitude of the media is causing problems for Mr Modi in shaping a climate of confidence and progress in the country.

Negative noise made by the Indian media has now reached such feverish level that Mr Modi has to personally express his views on matters which really deserve to be ignored by the Prime Minister.

A member of Parliament belonging to the ruling BJP made a number of allegations and criticisms against the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India who is held in high esteem by many people as a knowledgeable person who has done excellent work. Though it is obvious that the criticisms are motivated and half-baked and even personal to some extent, the media has been discussing this issue as extensively as if it is a matter of national priority. Mr Modi has to speak up to stop these ridiculous observations against the respected financial expert.

Similarly, the scientists and engineers working in Koodankulam nuclear power plant were criticized by some activists in such harsh terms as if they are anti-nationals, and several of the scientists and those who supported the nuclear power project were verbally abused. The Indian media worked overtime to publicise such harsh criticisms, unconcerned about the harm that it would cause to the morale of the hard-working technologists. Finally, the nuclear plant has been successfully commissioned and has been dedicated to the nation. However, the media do not seem to think that it is necessary to applaud the scientists for their efforts, which are viewed with admiration by several discerning technologists abroad.

All of a sudden, a national debate was started on so-called intolerance in India. The media gave so much importance to the politicians who accused the Modi government of promoting intolerance, for which there is no basis. Then, the media stopped discussing the so-called intolerance after the elections in a few states.

One of the Chief Ministers called Mr Modi a coward and psychopath, and the media gave huge publicity to such verbal abuse. Obviously this was what wanted by the man who made such uncharitable remarks.

There are several other instances that can readily be cited to prove the fact that Indian media is focused on creating public opinion largely based on negatives rather than positives. Possibly the media houses think that this would be the best “strategy” to attract viewership and build media business.

Challenge for Mr Modi

Even after Mr Modi’s forthcoming Independence Day speech, which would call upon the countrymen to look forward and work hard with scientific temperament, the Indian media and the preachers of negativism are unlikely to change.

The challenge for Mr Modi is on how to build a positive mood and climate in the country in spite of the Indian media and the free-wheeling activists, who seem to think that negative criticism is the hallmark of vibrant democracy. Can it be so?

About the author

NS Venkataraman is a chemical engineer as well as a social activist in Chennai, India. He is the founder trustee of Nandini Voice For The Deprived, a Chennai-based not-for-profit organisation serving the cause of the deprived and down-trodden and working for probity in public life.

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Copyright © 2016 NS Venkataraman Published in Tibet Sun Posted in Opinions » Tags: , ,