There was a time when the Indian press was able to pride itself that it had a vision and a mission. That was before India'sIndependence. From 1947, it took on a new ?mission?; to make money, to serve its proprietors. No one told the press that it has a permanent mission?to serve the country and its people.
There is nothing wrong with making money. But making money is not the job of the media. Its job is to educate the nation. Those who want to make money, let them go over to where money is made.
Education of a person begins from the day he is born. First, in the informal school?that is the family, and then in the formal school?the public institutions. For the rest of his life, he is under the influence of media.
It is utterly false to say that the education of a person ends with his formal education. Nothing can be more untrue. Education is a continuous process?from cradle to grave. The press, as I see it, is the greatest university of all, for it prepares a man to the greater challenges of life, for which his formal education does not prepare him. Thus, it is the press that educates a person how to face a war, a famine, a calamity, an epidemic and so on. And it is the press, not the school, which prepares the nation for this defence, for the conduct of its foreign policy and so on.
Today India faces a new situation. It is suddenly elevated to the status of great power. And some are even calling on India to take up the moral leadership of the world. I submit, our educational system is designed to be least helpful in these matters. Only the press can step in. But the Indian press is not fit for these tasks.
News, views and analysis?they helped a person to know what was happening in his country and the world. And it is by the quality of this work that a paper was judged. But no more. Today the emphasis is on fashion, beauty, crimes, scandals?lines that bring in money. The idea is to open up as many channels as possible within the paper to make money. Truth, beauty?in short, ethical considerations?these are no more of importance.
Over the years the area given to news, views and analysis has shrunk from 60 per cent of the paper to 20-30 per cent. The rest of the paper is sold to the highest bidder?the advertisers. And with this, the role of the editor has been reduced and that of the man who brings in the money has been raised.
I want to ask: Do the media serve any purpose today except to make money for the proprietors? Gandhiji had something to say on this. In a letter to an American, Gandhiji asks: ?What mark of civilisation is it to be able to produce a hundred and twenty page newspaper in one night, when most of it is either banal or actually vicious and not two columns worth preserving??You are children playing with razors,? he says.
Precisely. To be able to produce a newspaper of 32 pages in colour with not two columns worth reading is no sign of progress. But if the men who make money for the newspaper can sell every inch and acreage of the paper in advance through auction, it will be considered a great achievement, and rewarded. That will be his day of glory.
One can understand this lure of the lucre. Perhaps without advertisement, a paper cannot be run today. But what is one to make of the systematic perversion of the media? ?Why is the media here so negative?? bemoans the President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. ?Why are we so embarrassed,? he asks, ?to recognise our own strength, our achievements??
How has this happened? Because the role of the man who is interested in educating the nation?the editor?has been devalued and that of the money?makers raised. It is by selling news with a slant-negative, titillating and non-serious?that the media can attract the negative elements in society.
We are living in an age of the knowledge society. It is the job of the media to deliver knowledge. Only knowledge can create an ethical society. In its report, ?The World Ahead: Our Future in the Making?, says UNESCO that an ethical society cannot be created by the market. The market creates an inequitious society. (Gandhiji was not willing to live in it.) The West has created a society of political equality and economic inequality. We are following its lead. This cannot go on forever. We have to change it. And this is the job of the media.