Thursday, October 6, 2005

Oh, Indian journalism

An interesting interview from 2002 that I just discovered. The information still seems pertinent, so here we go.

Indian journalism is close to becoming a joke, but no one is laughing
C P Surendran -- Senior assistant editor, The Times of India

What are the challenges faced by the Indian media today?
Indian journalism is now very close to becoming a joke. But no one is, as usual, laughing. One of the things the new crop of journalists and the new brand of journalism have done is to make PR people run for cover. In Mumbai and other big cities you will see a lot of well-dressed people walking around in tears. These are the PR babes and boys. They have been done out of their jobs. By who? By journalists, who else? Time was when a firm or product wanted publicity, they called up an agency. No longer. Now they call up Athena, where the journo is as usual breaking ice with some celeb shit, who is struggling to come to terms with her cleavage, or his pumped up biceps, the most intelligent part of his well-toned anatomy. The other problem is one of monopoly. There are just not enough voices in the media to lend it a representative democratic character. The biggest paper in India doesn't have an arts/culture page. Which means opinion and other forms of intellectual discourse are not anywhere on the radar. The effort has been of late to make news entertaining, which means page three is very often as good or bad as page one. The Indian media needs more capital and more voices to break the hold of the monopoly syndrome. There is not one experiment right now happening in the media world. Fuck knows when that's going to change.

How would you rate Indian journalism on a scale of one to ten in terms of credibility, quality and personnel?
Four for credibility. Five for quality. Four for personnel.

Despite journalism in Indian languages coming of age, the English-language media in the country continues to dominate its vernacular cousins. What's your view on this?
That's not quite true. In Kerala, Malayala Manorama is a much bigger paper than any English paper can ever hope to become in the foreseeable future both in terms of readership and ad revenue. Same holds true for the vernacular press in Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and elsewhere. What's really happening is that vernacular reality is slowly getting undermined by the English language. Simply because English is more useful in terms of a world currency. If you know English your chances of survival are more than is the case if you knew only Malayalam or Tamil. But the English press has an advantage. It's read in Delhi — the place where all the important people snore through power and important things are decided. Delhi is the problem. Not the English press. Actually the issue here is uneven development of politics and economy.

Some observers of the Indian media contend that liberalisation and consumerism have led to the trivialisation of journalism in the country, to the triumph of puff over 'real' issues. Does this charge hold water and, if so, what does this development portend?
The charge holds not just water, it holds real boiling piss. The puff-development portends lesser and lesser participation by people in the process of democracy, alienation from issues, more self-absorption and the beginning of a perfectly alarming wannabe culture.

What do you make of 'celebrity journalism' of the kind indulged in by Arundhati Roy and others?
A Roy is doing what she can as an activist and a journalist because as a writer she is a failure. You have to justify your existence. Narmada and pamphlet journalism are as good an alibi as any. The real celebrity journalism is not the kind Roy indulges in. The really celeb journalism is the project carried out by fully adult journalists gushing and salivating because Tendulkar has bought himself a new car. It's personal — consumer-oriented geek reporting.

Is the space for print journalism being eroded by the expansion of the television medium and the growing power of the Internet?

What's your stand on foreign direct investment in mainstream Indian print publications, and what's the reason for the sharp divide on this issue?
Get all the money from wherever you can. Half the movies your children see to form their fine character are all financed by the Underworld. The reason for the divide: big papers want to protect their turf. Also one pound is close to Rs 70 now. If one pound were worth one rupee, would anyone care?

How bad is the problem of media publications pandering to their business and political interests. Can this be countered and, if so, how?
Pretty bad. Every House wants its own paper now — cuts your ad-spend, and what's more, freedom to lie! It can be countered if you get to redefine press freedom, and freedom of information act.

The independent journalist who can report any news the way he or she sees it — is this creature more of a myth than ever before?
The independent journalist is that rare and mythical unicorn. If he does make an appearance, you might see him bear a remarkable resemblance to Anand Patwardhan, who will swear he is a moviemaker. But we know better. He is an independent journalist.

Is there merit in the contention that Indian journalists cannot — should not — operate by the rules of the Western media (the truth above all else) when it comes to issues such as communal clashes?
Hogwash. Truth is meant to hurt. How do we discuss on the basis of a lie, or in silence?

Business journalism has grown by leaps and bounds since the beginning of the 1990s, and so has its influence. What do you attribute this to?
Money. Insider-trading. Corporate lifestyle.

Which Indian print publications do you rate as world class and why?
Outlook. Malayala Manorama. The Telegraph. The Hindu.

Where do you see the Indian media 25 years down the road?
Gutter? No, that's too dim a view. Actually, I can't say. I certainly wish in 25 years' time a lot of the current crop of journalists set up event management companies and switch trade, or alternatively pop off. There's no other way light will enter the tunnel.

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