The Press in India: An Overview; G.S.Bhargava; National Book Trust, Delhi; pp 217, Rs 85.00
Let it be said straightway: The Indian media does not get the attention it deserves, especially when it moves away from the straight and narrow path. But the word ?media? must be used with great discretion considering that the total number of publications registered with the Registrar of Newspapers is about 45,000, of which about 15,000 are weeklies, 6,000 fortnightlies, 12,000 monthlies, 3,000 quarterlies, 365 annuals and some 1,400 of other periodicity, all published in 18 major languages and another 80 in little know Indian dialects.
What G.S.Bhargava has done is largely to take an overview of the English language press which is, in itself, a major task. Not much attention has been given to this limited area even when so much material is available on it and in the last fifty years there have been hardly half a dozen books of note on the subject starting with J.Natarajan'sclassic History of the Press in India first published in 1950 and ending with N.S.Jagannathan'sIndependence and the Indian Press, Heirs to a Great Tradition published in 1999. Which is why G.S.Bhargava'sThe Press in India: An Overview deserves a warm welcome.
Bhargava'scredentials as a critic of the media are unchallengeable, considering that he has not only worked at responsible positions with leading national and international dailies and news agencies, but has served as Research Fellow at many reputed universities like Cornell and Harvard, not to speak of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London. Besides he has also served as Principal Information Officer (PIO), Government of India, during 1978-80.
While Bhargava'sattention is largely focussed on the English media, its beginning, progress and current status, the role and function of the Indian language press is also duly taken notice of in a lengthy appendix, which, indeed, is a valuable addition. Starting with the founders of the press in India from the beginning of the nineteenth century, who Bhargava extols, as the ?pathfinders? (which indeed they were), the author moves on to the post-Independence period which, according to him ?saw qualitative changes? in the character of the media.
Due coverage is given to the period of the Second World War which saw India ?dragged into the fray in the teeth of opposition by the national movement? and nationalist newspapers were forced by circumstances to keep ?business separate from ideology and political concerns?. Newspapers then just could not go against the colonial government ?for fear of appropriation?.
Some voluntarily suspended publication like the Aaj (Hindi) and National Herald, but Bhargava is glad that established ones like The Hindu and Hindustan Times did not because, had they closed down ?the field would have been free for the Anglo-Indian newspapers to peddle their pro-British line unchallenged? and people would have been starved of nationalist news and comment.
But once India became free, the newspaper industry started growing with leaps and bounds, both vertically and horizontally, even when newly formed journalist'sunions started crying wolf about monopolies and cartelisation. But that, then, was the fashion. After all, it was the era of conceptualisation of ?socialism? in the Nuhruvian mould. It was also a time of stiff competition, with weaker publication like Bombay Chronicle, Sanj Vartaman (Gujarati), Gyan Prakash (Marathi), and Rashtravani (Hindi) being forced to close down.
The chapter devoted to this period invites study. The only other time when the Indian press had to face governmental wrath was during the period of Emergency (1975-77) under Indira Gandhi when detention under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA), seizure of presses, cancellation of declaration, withdrawal of accreditation facilities, stoppage of government advertisements and demand for larger security deposits became the order of the day. Bhargava covers this period in great detail. It comes as a shock to learn even three decades later, that during the Emergency, as many as 253 journalists were arrested, 110 of them jailed for a minimum of one year and the entry of 27 foreign correspondents was banned. Power was grossly misused and even the Supreme Court refused to intervene in instances of mala fide detention of political leaders, on the indefensible excuse that the abrogation of the Fundamental Rights under the Constitution had barred Supreme Court intervention! This is the first time that a study has come forth on what the media suffered under the Indira Gandhi regime. If only for this one reason, Bhargava'swork commands respect.
As time passed, what was once a ?service? slowly turned into an industry and Bhargava makes special note of this, saying that ?the transformation of the press from a mission to service and ultimately to industry and the consequent conversion of journalists from upholders of values and causes, to industrial wage earners, had a profound effect on the quality and character of the profession?. How well put!
Bhargava notes sadly how reporting has turned into opinionated writing and how news space can be bought for a price and how leading papers, in their fight for circulation have been stooping low, resorting to all sorts of dirty tricks and in the process losing their credibility. Bhargava wants a revolt against this trend, maintaining that ?it is not a case of reforming the newspapers already in the business of putting credibility on sale but one of preventing the perversion from becoming a practice?.Some hope, that!
This is an excellent study of the dominant English media. Some errors have crept in. Margaret Alva, for instance, is described as the daughter of Joachim and Violet Alva when she is the daughter-in-law of the couple. But overall, this is a major contribution to the understanding of the Indian media written with utter objectivity and, what is more, fearlessness.