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I am the Electronic Media


America , as you  might  know, has the Rifle Association.  Nobody, but nobody, Republican or Democrat, may touch it.  For the reason that the  USP of American  democracy  is that an  American citizen, preferably all white, may fire away at any real or imagined threat to the safety of  his person or property. The American Constitution, good republicans think, was drafted with the singular purpose of ensuring this right, both at home and abroad.
 
Well, India now has her own answer to this.  Born some forty odd years after India’s independence from colonial rule, India’s  private-corporate electronic TV channels have over the two decades of neoliberalism come to be established, with complicit aid from the state, as the Indian Rifle Association.  Holy cow, rogue elephant, mythical albino pachyderm  that everybody seeks and fears, it has come to be all of these.  And it is the  untouchable – from- above  that rarely ever notices the untouchable-from-below.
 
Upto this day, this animal that traverses across the plethora of channels a spectrum of production from the occasionally sober and urbane  to the  habitually  sectarian, tendentious, jingoist, gauche, superstitious, reactionary, callously exploitive of base instincts and  illiteracies,  and obliteratively noisy, remains formally unaccountable within the  institutional arrangements of  Indian democracy, answerable only—as some very senior Indian journalists  recently pointed out in a talk show—to a handful of private  paymasters.  In its recent fulminations against  “corruption,” for example, the secret fount of  corruption was rarely mentioned, namely the corporates who crony upto  political and bureaucratic allies that may do their dirty work.
 
Even as they routinely scream  to hold  all state institutions—the political class, the bureaucracy, the  judiciary, the state-apparatus–  accountable,  India’s electronic  TV channels  remain blissfully and  shamelessly  outside the ambit of any regulatory mechanism, unlike  the  Print media who are overseen by a Press Council of India,  however conciliatory and toothless thus far.
 
But now, something seems set to change.  The new Chairman of the Press Council of India is a recently retired  justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Markandey Katju.  And as he did while he was on the bench, he means business.
 
Good old Nehruvaian socialist that he is,  as well as one who  has a nasty courage of intellectual and political conviction,  Katju  has been expressing what some polls have shown to be a majority view that  the fourth estate cannot by any stretch of constitutional arrangement be  deemed to be above  the  decencies that must always  be observed  in  public discourse, or above  the  livelihood concerns that affect and inform the existence of  some three fourths of all Indians, concerns that but rarely ever surface among the coverages of these  channels, except now and then as token offerings.    Nor may it be permitted the carte blanche to exhibit slanted presentations of  events that betray  allegiances contrary to one of the  “basic structures” of the Constitution, namely secularism.  Equally, the channels cannot be allowed to hold this party or that guilty, often in denigrative and abusive terms, before the courts have so pronounced them.
 
His proposal to the government of the day that the electronic channels also be brought under the ambit of the Press Council of India  evoked upon the instant the predictable  howl   that Katju  is not interested in any rational  discourse on the issue of regulation but is simply  desirous of gagging the fourth estate as it was gagged by the Indira Gandhi government in 1975.
 
Another instructive historical instance of how a power-structure that acquires the character of   fascist domination  cries the loudest for democracy whenever its totalitarian hold  is sought to be questioned or brought in line with answerabilities that apply everywhere else.
 
And often accompanied by resonant ironies as  Katju has now underlined.  Writing to the News Broadcasting Association, Katju has asked its secretary, N.K.Singh,
 
“I would like to know whether the Association is willing to be placed under the Lokpal, which is proposed to be set up in the winter session of Parliament.  You seem to be reluctant  to come under the Press Council.  Are you also reluctant to come under the Lokpal?”
 
Further:
 
“You claim the right of self-regulation. May I remind you that even judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts do not have that absolute right.  They can be impeached by Parliament for misconduct. . . Lawyers come under the Bar Council and their licence can be suspended or cancelled for professional misconduct.  Similarly doctors come under the Medical Council, chartered accountants under their council, etc.,…In the recent Anna Hazare movement, wide publicity was given to it by the media.  What is the demand of Anna Hazare? That politicians, bureaucrats, judges, etc. should all be placed under the Jan Lokpal Bill.  By what logic do you claim to be exempt from being placed under the  Lokpal?. . .You claim the right of self-regulation.  By the same logic, politicians, bureaucrats, etc., will also claim the right of self-regulation.  Or do you claim to be so  doodh ka dhula (cleansed by milk) that you should not be regulated by anyone else except yourself? What then were paid news, Radia tapes etc.,?”  (The phenomenon of “paid news” was uncovered first by that doyen of journalists dedicated to the causes that affect India’s  hungry and exploited millions, P.Sainath; it involves politicians paying for sponsored copies of adulation but appearing as news, especially during election times. See The Hindu, November, 9).
 
These,  you might well think,  are pretty unanswerable posers that the electronic media houses will predictably seek to meet with self-righteous  rhetoric on behalf of democratic principles for which they give not a fig in the first place. Most will stoop, in real life, to however low they must inorder to pick up that Television Rating Point (TRP).
 
In the days to come, therefore, despite the many discussions that may take place on the theme—and not all disingenuous—Katju must expect a concerted gang-up for his ouster from Chairmanship of the Press Council of India.  If the real purpose of the Anna Hazare-led putsch, as I have argued more than once, is to oust  the government at the centre that seems chary of  jettisoning its social-investment orientations in favour of further reforms calculated to increase private wealth, the corporates,  very same ones who  bolster the  Anna drive, will also  leave no gold-leaf unturned to ensure that  this new ominous Katju tendency with respect to their captive hold  on the electronic media is nipped in the bud.  Pitiful are those senior employees and anchors among these channels who will not but continue to  make strident  assaults on  the state so long as their own slavery to the corporates they serve remains well-paid.
 
And the hope that a majority of Indians who everyday suffer the inflictions of these channels, often as charmed zombies, and who sympathise with what Katju seeks to do may come out in considerable and visible support must be discounted for now. 
 
To those who  are  hard put to think where their next miserable meal may come from, the Katju cause, however sane and laudable, will seem not of an order of concern that may  relegate bread and butter issues.  That bread and butter issues may indeed be  inherent in the Katju concern about  privately-owned electronic media  may also seem a  thought remote from  quotidian  congnizance.
 
So much the pity.

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