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Indian Media in Transition

On December 13, as I was listening at my New Jersey home in the U.S. to an NPR (National Public Radio) program on investigative journalism in India, I could not help thinking about the motivation behind my decision nearly six years ago to enter the field of journalism, a decision that led to the creation of the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media in Bangalore. It was during the Kargil war in May 1999 that I had come to the inevitable conclusion about India’s democratic system. I was dismayed by the absence of honest reporting on the mistakes made by our politicians, the hasty and costly strategies undertaken by our military commanders, and the undercount of our casualties. Indian reporters failed to pursue anything resembling investigative and independent journalism, and the media was generally prepared to go along with the government’s view of things.

Coupled with my frustration with the widespread corruption in both the government and private sector and the cynicism on the part of almost everyone towards the possibility of any positive change, I had felt then, as I do today, that a free and independent media in India is the country’s best hope. Until the Indian media is prepared to uncover and report on the corruption and misuse of power by politicians, government officials, and private companies, the country will not be able to achieve its full developmental potential in an equal and fair society. Without transparency in governance, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to formulate sound policies.

Listening to the NPR segment today on India, I feel somewhat vindicated. IIJNM was founded with one ideal in mind – to improve the quality of the Indian press. It was my conviction then, as it is today, that it is our journalism students – the idealists among us -- who will bring about the necessary change that the country is longing for -- an open and far less corrupt system.

Today, television media has more or less taken the lead. Among the most popular programs in India, as I understand, are those reporting on corruption and misdeeds of politicians and government officials. “Candid camera,” as it is called here in the US, has taken hold in India. It reports with hidden camera the many true stories of the day -- the bribe that the police inspector extracts from the victim of a crime before agreeing to investigate, the “fee” that the government officer charges for his giving the order to make an electric connection, and the “contribution” that a company pays a member of the parliament before bringing up a legislative concern in the Lok Sabha. These stories are now part of the family entertainment offered by many TV stations, and believe it or not, those in power are a lot more careful today.

As many new TV channels enter the market, there is even greater competition for viewers. These stations will have to offer something better and more informative than the ordinary. With foreign media joining forces with Indian operators, these stations have the financial backing to produce better programs. Sure, there will be some weeds, but overall the flowers will brighten up the garden. The nation will benefit immensely.

Unfortunately, the print media, especially the daily newspapers, are still monopolized by a few proprietors. Foreign media is not allowed to have more than 26% of the total ownership. Consequently, many papers do not have the financial strength to take on today’s major players in the market. When this last bastion of power in the media is removed from the few proprietors, we can expect vigorous competition in search of truth. The power of the pen shall prevail. Neither the politician nor the judiciary will be able to deny the people’s right to information – the truth about ourselves and our rulers.

The author is the Dean of the Indian Institute of Journalism & New media, Bangalore (, and the author of “India Untouched: The forgotten face of rural poverty.”

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