Skip to main content

We want to annihilate caste, but without alternative media?

By Rajiv Shah
There is an increasing view among civil society groups that the established media is “not responsive” to the needs and aspirations of civil society. I would like to be audacious: I think the complaint is totally misplaced. Working with the Times of India for nearly two decades, and looking after Gandhinagar beat for 15 years, last as political editor, I knew the constraints under which one had to work.
There were some very specific “holy cows”, and this wasn’t just true of the Times of India, but of all media houses with presence in Gujarat: One can report whatever was true, but “business interests” of the paper should be taken care of. I always believed – it was wrong to complain: It was business interests alone that drove news. If business interests of the newspaper were hit, the news wouldn’t go through, you could be in trouble.
I remember, once I got terribly disturbed when my paper published an editorial page article, (presumably by Jug Suraiya), that news something like Colgate. But when I was in a high-level meeting in Ahmedabad with our top-most owner, I realized there was little reason to protest: This is what he told us pointblank, and I admire his frankness even today: that the newspaper was his “family business”. He wrote on the board “liberal social agenda” and crossed it out, though when queried by me, he replied “liberal political agenda is always there”.
Indeed, the established media may have good journalists, but they have to operate under heavy constraints. One can find great stories occasionally by enterprising journalists, till they wouldn’t contradict the business interests of the paper. The newspaper’s support or opposition to a particular political leader would have to depend on the business interests of the paper. I would tell my colleagues frankly: “If you think that it is difficult to operate in this framework, one had better resign and join a civil society organization.”
I remember in 1996 I was sent by my bosses in the Times of India to Vadodara to participate in a seminar on environmental issues. The time slot was just 40 minutes, and I was to speak on media and environment, but I triggered uproar when I argued: Don’t blame media for not taking your news, as media is controlled by business interests. Blame yourself for failing in your advocacy efforts. The debate continued on the issue for nearly two-and-a-half hours, indeed without end, till lunch. It was 1996. I still hold the same view, but times have changed, and fresh opportunities have arisen before the civil society than they were there at that time.     
In 2007, I was presented by a senior Gujarat bureaucrat a book by Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus, the Grameen Bank man from Bangladesh. Titled “Bankers to the Poor”, the book was first published in 1998 and republished by the Penguins in 2007. In 1998, when information and communication technology (ICT) was still not in fashion, Yunus said, ICT was going to “change the world in the immediate future far more rapidly and fundamentally than any other technology so far in human history.” In his article “Poverty Free World: How and When”, his words were prophetic: “The most attractive aspect of this spread of ICT is that it is not in anyone’s control. Neither government, nor big business, nor anyone of any authority can restrict the flow of information. The next best aspect of it is that it is becoming cheaper every day.”
Yunus further said, “ICT is raising the hope that we are approaching the world which is free from power brokers, and knowledge brokers”. He predicted that this ICT revolution was “particularly exciting for all disadvantaged groups, voiceless groups, and minority groups.” He insisted, “Any power based on exclusive access to information will disintegrate. Any common citizen will have almost as much access to information as the head of government. Leadership will have to be based on vision and integrity, rather than on manipulation of information”. I think few noticed what he said then, but the opportunities that he pointed towards to be deeply investigated. I know there is a strong view that ICT is still a middle class thing, but one should not forget what he pointed towards – that it is possible to disseminate information without the control of the powerful media groups and government, and to overlook this would mean overlooking the logic of socio-economic development.
It may not be fashionable to quote Karl Marx, as was in 1970s. But what Yunus said is only a reflection of Marx’s views enunciated way back in 1859 in “Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy”: “No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society.” Established Communists have, unfortunately, never paid heed to this truth. Yunus’ views on ICT only go to show the correctness of Marx’s views. It is time civil society heeds the voice of reason of Yunus and Marx and consider ICT as a means to change.
Indeed, it is in this context that I am stressing on the need to develop alternative media. Vested interests have begun using the ICT tool their advantage, so why wait now when we want to “annihilate caste” or take up other human rights issues? It is possible to develop it, without the support of powerful media houses. There have been extremely scattered efforts to do it; one of them is www.counterview.net, which I developed as a voluntary news portal, something I could not even dream of a decade ago. The effort is to provide information sourced on alternative sources, mainly civil society. Indeed, my 15-year interaction in government proves: to think official information is authentic is totally misplaced, the information one gets from the ground is more authentic.
Let me quote one of the latest instances: Based on just five (FIVE, imagine!) samples of Gujarat Muslim households, the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) reached the conclusion that OBC Muslims’ poverty rate is down from 42 per cent in 2006-07 to 2.5 per cent in 2011-12. And economist Arvind Panagariya writes how Gujarat has done so well in reducing Muslim poverty ratio! Panagariya didn’t know the sample size, which was revealed to me by Amitabh Kundu, author of the new but unpublished report on the condition of Muslims in India. On advice from Gagan Sethi, I carried an article on this in counterview.org, a blog jointly run by Navsarjan, Centre for Social Justice and Janvikas.
Indeed, it is time one develops media based on alternative sources of information, which are more authentic, even if they may be based on limited experiences. There is lot of information on Dalit, women, other oppressed groups’ human rights issues available with civil society, which is never disseminated. In fact, I find there is more often a tendency to find a major daily of a news channel to highlight the issue, and but when this doesn’t happen, one sits back and criticizes the established media of being “biased.” I am not saying that established media shouldn’t be given a chance, but there is a need to create a new bias – for alternative media, to reflect human rights, environmental and other issues nagging people.

Comments

TRENDING

Girl child education: 20 major states 'score' better than Gujarat, says GoI report

By Rajiv Shah
A Government of India report, released last month, has suggested that “model” Gujarat has failed to make any progress vis-à-vis other states in ensuring that girls continue to remain enrolled after they leave primary schools. The report finds that, in the age group 14-17, Gujarat’s 71% girls are enrolled at the secondary and higher secondary level, which is worse than 20 out of 22 major states for which data have been made available.

Savarkar in Ahmedabad "declared support" to two-nation theory in 1937, followed by Jinnah three years later

By Our Representative
One of the top freedom fighters whom BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi revere the most, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, was also a great supporter of the two nation theory for India, one for Hindus another for Muslims, claims a new expose on the man who is also known to be the original proponent of the concept of Hindutva.

Congress 'promises' cancellation of Adani power project: Jharkhand elections

Counterview Desk
Pointing out that people's issues take a backseat in Jharkhand's 2019 assembly elections, the state's civil rights organization, the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha, a coalition of activists and people’s organisations, has said that political parties have largely ignored in their electoral manifestos the need to implement the fifth schedule of the Constitution in a predominantly tribal district.

Hindutva founders 'borrowed' Nazi, fascist idea of one flag, one leader, one ideology

By Shamsul Islam*
With the unleashing of the reign of terror by the RSS/BJP rulers against working-class, peasant organizations, women organizations, student movements, intellectuals, writers, poets and progressive social/political activists, India also witnessed a series of resistance programmes organized by the pro-people cultural organizations in different parts of the country. My address in some of these programmes is reproduced here... 
***  Before sharing my views on the tasks of artists-writers-intellectuals in the times of fascism, let me briefly define fascism and how it is different from totalitarianism. Totalitarianism is political concept, a dictatorship of an individual, family or group which prohibits opposition in any form, and exercises an extremely high degree of control over public and private life. It is also described as authoritarianism.
Whereas fascism, while retaining all these repressive characteristics, also believes in god-ordained superiority of race, cultur…

Ex-World Bank chief economist doubts spurt in India's ease of doing business rank

By Rajiv Shah
This is in continuation of my previous blog where I had quoted from a commentary which top economist Prof Kaushik Basu had written in the New York Times (NYT) a little less than a month ago, on November 6, to be exact. He recalled this article through a tweet on November 29, soon after it was made known that India's growth rate had slumped (officially!) to 4.5%.

Post-Balakot, danger that events might spiral out of control is 'greater, not less'

By Tapan Bose*
The fear of war in South Asia is increasing. Tensions are escalating between India and Pakistan after the Indian defence minister's announcement in August this year that India may revoke its current commitment to only use nuclear weapons in retaliation for a nuclear attack, known as ‘no first use’. According to some experts who are watching the situation the risk of a conflict between the two countries has never been greater since they both tested nuclear weapons in 1998.

With RSS around, does India need foreign enemy to undo its democratic-secular fabric?

By Shamsul Islam*
Many well-meaning liberal and secular political analysts are highly perturbed by sectarian policy decisions of RSS/BJP rulers led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, especially after starting his second inning. They are vocal in red-flagging lynching incidents, policies of the Modi government on Kashmir, the National Register of Citizens (NRC), the demand for 'Bharat Ratna' to Savarkar who submitted 6-7 mercy petitions to the British masters (getting remission of 40 years out of 50 years' sentence), and the murder of constitutional norms in Goa, Karnataka and now in Maharashtra.

Rushdie, Pamuk, 260 writers tell Modi: Aatish episode casts chill on public discourse

Counterview Desk
As many as 260 writers, journalists, artists, academics and activists across the world, including Salman Rushdie, British Indian novelist, Orhan Pamuk, Turkish novelist and recipient of the 2006 Nobel Prize in literature, and Margaret Atwood, Canadian poet and novelist, have called upon Prime Minister Narendra Modi to review the decision to strip British Indian writer Aatish Taseer of his overseas Indian citizenship.

Worrying signs in BJP: Modi, Shah begin 'cold-shouldering' Gujarat CM, party chief

By RK Misra*
The political developments in neighbouring Maharashtra where a Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government assumed office has had a trickle down effect in Gujarat with both the ruling BJP and the Congress opposition going into revamp mode.

'Favouring' tribals and ignoring Adivasis? Behind coercion of India's aborigines

By Mohan Guruswamy*
Tribal people account for 8.2% of India’s population. They are spread over all of India’s States and Union Territories. Even so they can be broadly classified into three groupings. The first grouping consists of populations who predate the Indo-Aryan migrations. These are termed by many anthropologists as the Austro-Asiatic-speaking Australoid people.