We are using democracy to legitimise our undemocratic-ness, says Ravish Kumar
Exclusive: One of the most-respected icons of contemporary Indian journalism, winner of numerous awards and honours, much sought-after public intellectual and writer Ravish Kumar speaks exclusively to the Indiatimes.live on ethical issues that the profession is facing in the times of right-wing uprise and crony capitalism.
Q. If you have to list the challenges that journalism is facing today, which three would fall in the category?
Ravish Kumar: Indian media has become ‘Hindu media’ today. So what crisis are we talking about if most of the media has made this their foundational thought. This media is no media. Still, if you talk about news channels particularly, they have killed the ground reporting, real news has been reduced to tidbits and topics that are to build a particular perception are blown into the central theme, debates are gyrating around that only. The wall that protected news processing has been demolished. The newsroom structure has caved in and even if it exists, it classifies only as propaganda, not news. Like nobody knows when did Akshay Kumar interview the Prime Minister and which channel was involved in its recording? Who are the people who edited it? But all channels did broadcast it. This clearly proves that the propaganda is done by a centralized mechanism; it has matured in its form. There is a need to create another media for which there is no space. Some are trying already but their reach is limited.
Q: Please explain the news process mechanism and what all it entails?
Ravish Kumar: News process means the network of reporters! Now, there is a network of anchors, these anchors start their day by saluting the government openly. The (Indian) corporate is financing this Hindu-ised media, they don’t issue advertisements to those channels and websites who question the government on governance issues. And it is not out of fear of the government, but the fact that they too have been through the process of Hinduization. In India, the Multinational Corporations also did not support the secular media. In America, for instance, the corporates decided not to contribute to the economy of racial media houses, but in India the opposite happened. The communally polarizing media gets maximum monetary support from the Corporate.
Q. Has this election bare opened the loopholes of all the institutions that are meant to safeguard free and fair elections?
Ravish Kumar: In today’s scenario, one cannot trust the Election Commission. When one of the three commissioners is saying that his objections are not being documented in the official records, then it simply means that the Election Commission is no more trustworthy. The EC itself has let democracy down. It has brushed aside every public criticism and question mark.
There were many complaints filed against the Prime Minister for violating the model code of conduct, but the EC extended latitude on those complaints. The EC took weeks to even decide that there will be ‘no action’ against the PM.
During the West Bengal campaign of Amit Shah, there were religious tabloids and mythological characters in the roadshow and the EC let it happen. The EC brought the institution to Amit Shah’s feet. The ex-CECs were too weak to object to this new precedent. Earlier they used to raise objections against such maladies, now they are also complacent. So when the Election Commission itself is partisan, how can an election process be fair? Then the mainstream media that affects the elections majorly has worked for BJP openly. All the events were designed in a manner that BJP’s message would reach the masses. The Election Commission should be declared an organ of the Bharatiya Janata Party only. We did not safeguard our institutions properly. Earlier too, we have ignored the misuse, Congress too had sent an ex-Election Commissioner to the Upper House of Parliament.
Q. What is wrong with the ownership model of the Indian news media today? How to make this media accountable?
Ravish Kumar: The cross-ownership has ruined media. It all started during the UPA rule. The big corporates own many mainstream channels and this is the basis of media being unaccountable towards people. The various business models of media are designed in such a fashion that shows how comfortable they are working in tandem with the government. For instance, each media house organizes conclaves, for which ministers and bigwigs of the ruling party are entertained, so they are designed only to suit the government.
Otherwise, the ministers would not turn up and the show will end up being a disaster, and it has happened earlier. So this conclave-model of media is very dangerous, as it doesn’t allow real questioning. It appears to incorporate issues like environment, Clean-Ganga etc. but it’s all profit oriented in the disguise of journalism. Media has all the right to earn profits but not at the cost of real journalism.
Q. How come a majority of Indian mainstream media decided to give up all the journalistic and professional ethics and still feel okay in showing off their partisan role? Why has decency and integrity lost its charm? What social phenomena led to this?
Ravish Kumar: The Indian media, particularly the news channels, transformed well before 2014 arrived. They became tabloids. Just check how media houses worked close to the 2014 General Election. Efficient and dedicated reporters were shown the door while news anchors were brought in as the face of the Channel. These news anchors brought in a new uncouth linguistic culture. When 2014 happened, this brigade was ready to go with the ruling party and their aggressive language provided the cover against their own dilemma.
All along, a new ecosystem was ready to cushion them against the objections about their journalism, but they were not ostracized, while those who were still sticking to the real journalism were excluded. I was not only ostracized by the BJP, but also trolled on Internet. What yo
u label as indecency is the new decency of the Indian media. Now there is a big constituency that is ready to accept the lies and propaganda as journalism.
The Modi style of politics not only created media dedicated to him, but also created an army of his supporters and defenders and this all happened quickly. I call it Modi-system in which even the camera angle and questions are fixed. Just check the Amarnath episode during the recently concluded elections. The news agency ANI was doing a live telecast, where PM was shown as waving at the crowds, but most of the time the camera didn’t pan towards the crowd. So the viewers didn’t get to know how the crowds were responding to him, or was there any crowd in the first place? So in Modi-system a new language of camera has been invented where every other object is excluded, only Modi is in the frame. This camera language made the Opposition invisible or represented the Opposition leaders as jokers, good for some cheap laughs only. When no space is given to the Opposition or it is treated as unwelcome by the media, it means it’s fascism that is being telecast directly. It is another matter that the Opposition too did not object to this. In fact, the Opposition legitimized fascism of media by participating in their debates. All the known secularists and experts were seen participating in such debates, thinking they are creating a public discourse by participating in this diversity of voices. Little did they see that the real agenda of this media was to kill diversity and establish a single image and singular discourse.
Q. What are the social dynamics working to communalise Indian society at large?
Ravish Kumar: There has been a concerted effort to demonise the Muslim community in the public perception; the seeds of doubts about them were sown in each generation since the Partition of the country.
At societal level, the interaction of the middle class is least. I know many such Hindu friends who’ve never been to any Muslim home and same is the case with Muslims too. We are pretty confused about the idea of diversity in India; we imagine it as mere intermingling, which is not correct. We live in blocks of Hindu, Muslim, then caste divide. We may interact with each other at the work place, or at public spaces, but this coming together is not to reduce prejudices but to go back to our exclusivity. As a society, we have never confronted Hindu communalism directly. On mainstream TV, Hindu communalism was justified by juxtaposing four bad maulanas; they thought that Hindu communalism is their weapon against Muslims. They fail to understand that communalism may convert individuals into human bombs. It is evident now. People justify murders or prefer to remain silent now, all in the name of communal allegiance. This is scary for a secular nation.
The democratic order has collapsed. Indian society was never democratic in its nature. We never visit each other’s home due to the practice of caste hierarchy, and we throw young couples in fire for choosing a partner from a different caste. We use democracy to legitimise our undemocratic-ness. Communalism is the new legitimate. Shahrukh Khan is not everyone’s hero anymore. He is a hero only on the silver screen. Outside the movie world, if he expresses his opinion on any issue, he is viewed as a Muslim.
It is not that the Muslim community in India doesn’t have contradictions but they have responded to it. When fingers were raised towards them on the issue of Terrorism, many community based organizations responded by coming out against Terrorism at the Ram Lila Ground in Delhi. Has any Hindu religious leadership or organization ever come out against Hindu com
munalism? When ‘bad’ maulanas were brought on TV debates to fan Modi-media’s agenda of communal hate, the Muslim intelligentsia raised questions on their participation as community representatives. Today, no decent maulana participates in these TV debates. But on the other side, who all are representing the Hindu community now? What language they speak, what is their expertise and scholarship on the subject? They speak of violence and hatred towards Muslims openly. There are experts who are well read about Hinduism and its essence but these channels do not invite them. Just the way they need a bad maulana similarly a hate mongering Hindu Godman is required to carry on the fight on screen, every single day.
Q. In today’s globalised world where the populations is moving across the length and breadth of the planet, isn’t it paradoxical that the Right wing is on the rise? For example, why do the majority of Indian (Hindu) diaspora that celebrates India Day and Hindu religious rituals in their country of adoption want India to become a Hindu nation and mono-cultural?
Ravish Kumar: We are living an isolated life in India as well as abroad. Those who reside in America enjoy the best of that country but do not help promote the same value system in their native India. Sadly, for India the expats are same people as they were in India before leaving its shores. The diaspora receives information from the mainstream media that is less news and more propaganda. I think the Non-Resident Indians are unaware of the multi layered reality. They love India and the communal forces exploit this emotion. I hope some day they’ll wake up to save their country from hatred. They’ll be able to see that the media has ruined India. This media is full of scare mongering. I’ve faith that the NRIs will not let it happen to their beloved India. They’ll also fight to save the democratic India. They might be full of feelings for their respective religions but they are also full of Indianness too. They’d aspire for an India which they may take pride in. Can they be proud of an India where the vital institutions like the Election Commission itself sabotages democracy? Where its media betrays the democratic commitments? I don’t think so; they would be the first one to oppose this degeneration.
Q. In spite of all the question marks that are raised, what is the silver lining for the Indian society today?
Ravish Kumar: There are plenty silver linings in the Indian society but they are not capable to strike at the impending dangers. The good thing is that people accept the fault lines in private conversations, but not openly. So there is a thunder under the clouds, yet it’s not striking at the moment.
Q. Experts talk about dedicated viewership-based alternative media through the Internet. How hopeful you are about it?
Ravish Kumar: For masses, media means mainstream media for which they shell out money and time both. The mainstream media has created an audience base now and they both feed and construct each other daily. So, any media outside this society will be accepted when the mainstream media recognizes it. Definitely, some people understand the real meaning of media and they are challenging the false narrative by creating videos and uploading them for public. They are trying to save this semblance of journalism through their individual efforts. But the media that may reach upto the echelons of power could not be created by the alternative media structure, so far. Personally, I am a person of incessant hope but hope is not enough to address the question of financial structure. The political change of guard will not change media. As long as the society is reeling under hatred and the Corporate is supporting dictatorship, things will not change in mainstream media.