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Time to Recapture the Autonomy of The Reader and Viewer

  • November 8, 2023
  • 13 min read
Time to Recapture the Autonomy of The Reader and Viewer

Part two of Ravish Kumar’s speech on contemporary Indian Media.

A seminar was held on October 28 at the Constitution Club in Delhi on the topic, ‘Imminent crisis and challenges for India as a constitutional nation’. This seminar was attended by poet and literary-cultural critic Ashok Bajpai, academic Aakriti Bhatia, Advocate Kabir Srivastava, Film Director Nitin Vaidya, Professor Rajkumar Jain and Journalist Ravish. The AIDEM is reproducing an edited excerpt of Ravish Kumar’s speech at the seminar.

In the history of democratic India, the media has sometimes been free, sometimes not. Sometimes it has been independent and sometimes it has been slave. But its reader, its audience was never a slave. It was an autonomous entity. But now the autonomy of being a reader and viewer has also ended. Just as the journalists killed the journalist within them, in the same way the readers and viewers have killed the reader and viewer within them. Religion has been placed in its place. It is not that they do not have feelings within them, they definitely do, but in their place, they feel happy over someone’s murder. There is a new feeling of pride in talking about a permanent solution for a community. So there is a relationship between Godi media and its readers and viewers. And you scholars should study it in depth. It is not just a political connect but there is also a psychological relationship that has developed. Now they cannot read the right news. Unless they read the wrong news, they will not believe that the news they have read is correct. I have spoken many times about the need to refrain from watching Godi media. Do you think it is that easy for someone not to watch Godi media? This is like telling someone who watches reels not to watch reels. This is a habit that not everyone can get out of. You can easily go from secular to communal, but to go from communal to secular or to be human or to acquire human qualities in oneself is a very difficult process. It is not within everyone’s reach. One who is communal once, is communal for a very long time. Along with being communal, they are also murderers. If they are not a murderer, they are the supporters of murder. It is not so easy that you just tell them not to watch Godi media. What will they do? How will they survive? Now they do not know how to live without it. Unless there is a movement of citizens against Godi Media, unless people go door to door and explain, India will not get a media that is democratic and one that stands for democracy.

Media, which we knew as press, has played a good role in India’s journey towards democracy. It has also played a role in adding fuel to the fire of partition. Gandhiji had once advised not to read newspapers. Many people have made divisive comments about newspapers around 1947. But many a time I have wondered as to what happened to those communal editors and journalists later on? What did they do later in journalism and after their career in journalism? How did they establish in the society? When I imagine this, I am curious to know who were the people who spread and published such communal news in 1947 which resulted in riots at many places. Many times one can see and read the irritation of Sardar Patel. So what happened to those people? Were they safe in politics? Did they become respected in the society? I do not know the answer to this. Maybe someone else has it. But in the same period Ganesh Vidyarthi, who opposed communalism, was killed in the riots. But the question still remains. There has been an element of communalism in journalism. But what is there today is different. Today communalism is journalism. You cannot imagine journalism without communalism. If you are not communal, do not hate Muslims then what do you do in Godi media? How do you spend your day?

This is also a matter to think about. Can you have a place there? So today, to be a journalist, being communal, anti-Muslim is the first condition. And when you become communal, you cannot be democratic and constitutional in any way. That possibility has vanished within you. It cannot be created from any institution. And I do not use Hindu-Muslim because now everything is one-sided. So when journalism becomes communal, when people  within the journalist fraternity start celebrating mob killings, can you teach them the lesson of our Constitution? Every kind of bad habit has entered today’s Godi media. The one good soul, the soul of the Constitution, has been thrown out of the media. Now if there is a raid on the media, then it is not a matter of concern for the media. Many anchors do not condemn it. Take the cases of Kerala’s Media One channel, which was banned for some time and now the raid on NewsClick. These actions were linked to the NIA (National Investigation Agency), but how many channels debated on it? Regarding (NewsClick journalist) Abhisar Sharma, an MP (Member of Parliament) took the name and said that he takes money from China. There is no proof anywhere. And the mainstream Godi media also debated on it. Abhisar himself is a journalist, so now the journalist also has to fight with the media to save his existence, then what will be the condition of the common citizen? We did not know that this sort of a media value would be generated by their religious and cultural values. Now it is evident that this is their imagination about a religious and cultural state or nation.

So if you do journalism and you think that you want to do journalism without communalism, then you will have to fight day and night with this media too. And you can do journalism only while fighting. Still, it will call you an enemy of the country. 

Now there is no place even for journalists in this media. How many channels of Noida would have gone in support of NewsClick to the Press Club? No one would have gone. All this should have been subjects of media debate. But that is not happening now. Godi media is systematically destroying the values of media. It does not even debate on the changes that are taking place in the constitutional protection system of the law. It is abandoning these debates.

The newspapers that are in existence now, the channels which are successfully running now are supposed to debate these points. And if they are not doing it, then you will have to accept that whatever opportunity there is of getting your message across is over or rather is almost dead. What is the common man doing now when he goes to protest, he makes a post, posts the same post on the Twitter handles of dozens and hundreds of journalists. No one listens to him. Earlier the media used to go to the people, now people are coming to the media and still no one is listening. In 2019, Australia’s Central Investigation Agency raided ABC News Channel and also raided a journalist’s house. In response, almost all the newspapers applied blank ink on the first page of their paper, in such a manner that the reader could not read. All the newspapers had protested and an advertisement was run on TV channels asserting that the government is trying to hide the truth from the people. Can you do it here? Do not think it is possible. So what did these journalists report? The report was about how the Australian army in Afghanistan had broken the rules of war and committed war crimes. Can you imagine such a story in today’s India? No. And Scott Morrison, who was the Prime Minister, faced a big problem. Right to Know Coalition was formed. We have Right to Information law, but how is it being implemented ? 

In the media with advertisements worth lakhs of crores, you will find only one or two journalists, that too in newspapers, who use it. Journalists had to use the RTI Act the most, but they used it the least. Some things must have happened in the media in relation to RTI before 2014, but after 2014 it is as though RTI is not being used by journalists. And, even if someone does use RTI and comes up with a story it is more often than not used. In 2018, under the leadership of Boston Stroll, around three hundred newspapers in America wrote editorials for press freedom. So it is not that I am presenting Western newspapers as role models. Right now I cannot do that at all. The way they report on Israel and Gaza is very bad. But in the same reporting, representatives of the same channels are being killed in Gaza. 28-29 journalists have been killed there in this war. And these channels at least have so much decency left in them that they accept that these are their correspondents. I do not know exactly whether they are their full-time or part-time correspondents. Still they are saying that these are our reporters. And in this era, you see that the journalists who are reporting from this war zone, their own children are being killed, family members are being killed, still they are reporting. Even the doctors are not running away from there. They did not run away from the hospital. They remained there. As a matter of fact, in today’s media, those who are watching their loved ones die should be treated as heroes.

There has been so much attack on India’s democracy in the last ten years. When people ask me what we should do, I say, I will tell. I will tell you such a solution that even the clothes will not get dirty. You stop paying Rs 250 to this Godi Media newspaper and news channel. Can’t you do that much work? Those against whom it is printed are also reading it because sometimes their photo is also printed in it. In today’s times, no fight can be a democratic and constitutional fight without fighting the value trap created by the Godi media. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and I have one thing in common, all three of us are YouTubers. But there are some differences too. Rahul Gandhi probably does not say ‘Subscribe to my channel’. But the Prime Minister said ‘Subscribe to my channel’. In that matter I am senior to him because I have already been asking viewers to subscribe to my channel. And even on Twitter I am senior to the Prime Minister. I was on Twitter before him. His supporters used to make fun of me saying that I am asking for subscribers on Twitter. Fire him from his job, they used to add.

This journalist is happy. I have come here after losing my job as a journalist. But when they started asking for subscribers, I said at least I have won in this matter.

So you must understand why the Prime Minister had to come on YouTube? Why have Rahul Gandhi and I come on YouTube? The reasons for both are different. Even though the Prime Minister has the commercial media, as well as countless channels of Doordarshan, and Akashvani, yet he had to go to YouTube and say that you (the people) should subscribe to him. Not because the television audience has reduced. There might be some reason. Or the credibility of these anchors has gone down, so now they are not getting much recovery from them. But I think this is not a very strong reason. We should never be under the illusion that the space on YouTube is non-communal. There is more communalism there than on mainstream channels. Such content and such programs are running strongly there. So the Prime Minister is asking viewers to subscribe and start including a little bit of his content in their respective programmes. But the fact is that the media has blocked Rahul Gandhi as well as other leaders of the opposition. Whenever Rahul Gandhi holds a press conference on issues related to Adani , it is never shown in mainstream channels. There is also no debate on these issues, because when you debate, all the news published on Adani will come up in the research. So, there is no need to hold such debates. This situation has been created in front of you. When Rahul Gandhi was interviewing Satyapal Mallik, I did not like it.

Indian journalism has now become such that the leader of the opposition has to become a journalist while the already established so-called journalist who is dominating the media space is killing the opposition. That is why I did not like it. I also felt that the leader who was ridiculed by the media and branded as weak, that leader, was forever embarrassing the media, an industry worth lakhs and crores, with one of his interviews. It was a sort of statement which said that when you (the media) are not there, I will also do the interviews though I am an opposition leader. It was like pointing to a vaccum in the media. And that is why it was a very sad moment when I saw this interview.

On February 7, 2023, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that these people (the opposition) should thank Enforcement Directorate (ED) because they have come on one platform because of the ED. ED brought these people on one platform.

The opposition had alleged from time to time that the government was making use of the ED politically, and the Prime Minister was in a sense accepting that allegation when he said that their (the opposition’s) unity has happened because of ED. The Prime Minister also said that the trust in Modi was not born from the newspaper headlines or by the shining faces on TV. Remember, he was referring to the very people who had served him so much. And he went on to add that he has worked hard and used every moment.

I want to conclude with one more statement. Elections of 2019 were going on and Rajkamal Jha and Ravish Tiwari of Indian Express were taking an interview of the Prime Minister. There is a line in that interview which I often think why a newspaper of that level did not put as the headline? Was this an editorial mistake? When we interview a big leader, we pay close attention to each and every thing he says and we choose the headline which has more news value. Did it happen in this interview? The Prime Minister had said as follows in the interview: “Whether news gets published or not is not the only thing in a democracy”. Yes, “Whether news is published or not is not the only thing in a democracy.” Namaskar.

Click here to read the first part of this transcript. Watch the original video of Ravish Kumar’s Hindi speech here.

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