The most sensational news concerning the media – which many newspapers sadly did not cover – is the decision of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to recommend curbing corporate control of the media, while pointing to the complexities in operationalising it. It would seem that there is talk of creating “an institutional buffer” between corporate owners and editorial management of the media. All this has stirred up a measly controversy. One charge is that corporate control over media content has distorted democratic practices through ‘paid news’ and that “with the line between news, views and propaganda blurred, readers are misled”. And Big Business has one more tool to influence the political system. Many issues arise in this context of TRAI’s recommendation. One, setting up a newspaper costs crores of rupees. Where is it to come from? Anybody who wants to pitch in with financial assistance would be a rich idealist or a pucca businessman who wants returns for the money he has invested. Even the Congress-supported National Herald had at one time to close down. So, when someone – may be a Corporate Group – coughs up the cash, one presumes that it wants something in return in whichever way. Paid News could be just one part of that objective.
In a democratic country a Corporate body also should have the right to present news – or such information it feels the reader should have access to, or else what is democracy all about? To argue that the financier of a paper should have no right to control what should go into a newspage but should leave it strictly to the editor is to live in a dream world. Besides what makes one think that the editor has no political or socio-economic and other biases?
Lies are propagated, politicians are sought to be dragged in the mud, as in the case of Narendra Modi and no one has questioned the Goebellian mind-set of our alleged secularists determined to destroy a good man’s character. And, surely, one is aware of the Neera Radia tapes? Vice President Hamid Ansari in an address to the biennial session of the National Union of Journalists held in June made the point that the autonomy of the editorial staff must be upheld. With all due respect to Mr Ansari and to my own fellowmen, colleagues, in the profession, it is only too unfair.
Besides, who among the ‘staff’ will have the right to decide what makes news? The Editor? The News Editor? The Chief Reporter? And what if all of them decide together to damn the very individual or corporate body who pays for their bread and butter? What kind of logic is that? Furthermore are we to presume that all corporate bodies are run by unprincipled individuals? There are 80,000 – plus registered publications in India and 800 plus TV channels. What makes sense is for a financier of a paper appointing an editor with whom he has easy and complete rapport and both enjoy mutual trust. Then the question of appointing a statutory Media Council does not arise. To presume that editorial staffs are by definition unbiased i