Below is the abridged text of a message sent by Justice P.B. Sawant, former chairman of the Press Council of India (PCI), to a seminar on the state of the media held by the Editors Guild of India in New Delhi on November 2, to mark the 100th birth anniversary of Nikhil Chakravartty, former editor of Mainstream Weekly. Courtesy: sans serif
By P.B. SAWANT
“The deterioration in the standard of journalism that is often complained of, is on account of many contributory causes. The low mental, moral and intellectual calibre particularly at the top, being not the least important among them.
“But here, it is necessary to draw distinction between different media outlets.
“The corporate-owned and dominated media-houses have their journalists on the leash, and many times appoint them only to fill the post. On account of the hefty pay packages and alluring perks, many do not mind being the call-boys of the management.
“It is common knowledge that the views injurious to the interests of the owners, their friends, political patrons, the advertiser and co-businessmen are not allowed to be published, and the editors have to submit to the management policy from time to time.
“Gone are the days when the independent editors strode the path with majesty. They had value of their own and commanded respect and readership on account of their intrinsic qualities. The newspapers were identified by their names and the readers moved with them to different newspapers.
“That breed of journalists cannot be expected in the philistine world of today. Those who cannot adjust to the present ambiance, fight their lonely battles, and except a few, fail to survive.
“Even the average readers of the day, have no time and taste for serious journalism. The values have changed and are changing fast. The role of the journalist is reduced to the commentator on the events. The comments have also to be within the framework laid down.
“Unfortunately for the last some years, the foreign element has also become prominent in quite a few editorials, main articles, reportage, and anchoring and interviews. When the government and non-government so called experts also crawl before the foreign interests, this is not surprising. And yet, some plead for the wholesale entry of the foreign media.
“There is enough documentation on the role the foreign agencies have been playing through many dubious devices including the media, to spread economic imperialism, and to weaken the countries and their governments. There is a fleet of journalists in every country on the pay-roll of the foreign intelligence agencies.
“Our journalists have to be on guard lest they fall an easy prey to the alluring alien snares. On the other hand, they should, in the national interests, expose these insidious rackets.
“Some apologists argue that today the journalists do not have lofty causes to pursue as the freedom struggle, the initial phases of nation building, sharp ideological skirmishes, wars with Pakistan, emergency, cold-war and regional hot wars, etc, which not only sharpened the pen of the former generation journalists, but shaped their characters.
“It is therefore not proper to compare the present generation journalists with their predecessors. It may at once be agreed that it is not fair to weigh the present generation with the earlier generation in any field, for obvious reasons. But it is incorrect to argue that we are not faced with as important problems as did the past generations.
“Every generation has it its own problems and some of them are graver than any faced by the earlier generations. We are today confronted with aggressive casteism and communalism, rampant corruption in every field, growing criminalisation of public life, galloping economic imperialism all over the world euphemistically called neo-liberalism and globalisation, all round environmental destruction and pollution, piling of atomic, chemical and biological weapons, blatant unilateral invasion of countries for plundering their oil, minerals and other natural resources and capturing their markets, anti-national policies and projects, treaties and agreements, enormous economic inequalities, terrorism born of deep social and economic injustice as well as of fanaticism etc. But there is no crusade against any of these national evils and disasters.
“On the other hand, the voice of the media is muted on some of these issues, lest the vested interests and patrons are hurt. The comments on these developments, when made are superficial. No attempt is made to delve into the basic causes, with the result that the real culprits remain free to indulge in their nefarious activities.
“Journalism, one thought was for educating the people, and not for satisfying their curiosity by any feedback.
“The lack of independence of the journalists is the main weakness of journalism today. That is on account of corporatocracy is undisputed. It can only be cured by the ownership of the media by the journalists themselves either through co-operative or company structure. The venture will succeed, if the journalist concentrates on journalism, and hand-over the administrative and business part to the professional managers. The Le Monde of France may serve as an example.”