Congress leader feels news platforms are heavily compromised due to commercial reasons
GN Bureau | October 10, 2020
Congress leader and former union minister Kapil Sibal feels the media, the fourth pillar of democracy, has actually dismantled itself and is in self-destruct mode.
He was in a live webinar with Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Governance Now, on Friday, in an episode of the Visionary Talk Series organized by the public policy and governance analysis platform.
To see the previous episodes of the series, click here: http://www.governancenow.com/visionary-talks-series
Sibal, an MP and a senior supreme court advocate, explained that there are four aspects to media: firstly, the nature of media has completely changed over the years – since the time of leaders like Lala Lajpat Rai, Mahatma Gandhi and Lokmanya Tilak who during the Freedom Struggle, edited and ran their own newspapers through donations.
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“There was no commercial aspect, no industry, commerce or ads, so there were no interests involved in disseminating opinions. That media, which practiced free speech, is now completely transformed. Today it has been transformed into commercial speech where TRPs are important. Ultimately, the more TRPs you get the more advertising revenues you get, and the more advertising revenue you get the more you want TRPs to increase to get even more revenue. So it is about commerce and earning money… it is the desire to earn more that dominates. Whatever sells, whether it’s true or not, try and sell it,” he said, terming it as its second aspect which has completely changed.
Thirdly, Sibal said, media houses are now controlled by industry. The industry has vested interest in government, and media really survives through government revenues and government advertisements and that very few private advertisements can make media houses self-sufficient. “So if you are an industry, you have stakes in government, and you need government ads to run your media channels, then at some level an element of compromise takes place. The more you please the government, the more happy the government is to give you ads… it’s a vicious circle. Somewhere down the road what you call truth gets compromised. For free speech to flourish in the country, this must be dismantled.”
He added that truth is a very rare commodity and everything depends on the eye of the beholder. He said that it is very difficult to define truth as it can be viewed differently by different people. “The nature of truth always changes because there are new ways of looking at things. There is new data, new enlightenment and many things ultimately result in what is truth. Sometimes you start with a proposition but end with a different proposition. Truth is not static.”
Sibal said that social media is the fourth dimension of media where you are not liable at all, unlike the mainstream and print media where you are under certain laws. On social media you are protected by anonymity, you can say anything you want whether is true or untrue and mostly you vilify and abuse people and there is no recourse to the individual who is victimized and you see it happening every day.
He recited a poem he penned on the current state of media: “Camera views with just one eye / I wish it could have two / Along with a mind that helps to find what is truth.” In other words, when you look at things with a single eye, you overlook two sides of opinions before coming to conclusion. You will never find out the truth.
While responding to a question on nationwide protests against the new farm legislation and how he saw the issue going forward, Sibal said, “This is in fact subversion of federalism. A larger constitutional issue needs to be discussed: whether the centre has power at all to deal with agriculture which is in the state list. The distribution of and manner of distribution of farm produce should be decided by the state government.”
He said that even when the procurement took place in major procurement states like Punjab and Haryana and those with marginal procurements like Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, only 20%-30% produce came to mandis and the rest was sold privately. Now with contract farming allowed where one party is a marginal farmer with less than two hectares of land and the other side a big corporation, where is the level playing field? If the contract is breached where will the poor framer go, he asked. He said if farm producing states like Punjab and Haryana are upset and agitating in a big way, obviously something is amiss.
He said that the government claims it is transformative legislation, but then it said the same thing while imposing demonetisation which was the beginning of the economic downturn and now it says it does not have enough revenue to pay GST to states. “It’s all very easy to say that something is transformative. You say it because you believe it is transformative and you impose those decisions without thinking through.”
On the India-China faceoff, the senior Congress leader said, on such matters we must stand with the nation. “We can criticize the government for its statements but we laud the bravery of our soldiers and the difficult circumstances in which they are placed and fought back.” Sibal said he wished the prime minister had not stated that no part of our territory was occupied by the Chinese when in fact it was.
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