A salute to every journalist who is putting his health and life on the line to report on the covid-19 disaster that is rapidly unfolding in the nation. A bigger salute to every journalist who is also reporting the truth about the situation, sans diktats of the media houses that have sold their soul to the government.
They are doing this despite pay-cuts. Most news organizations have been reduced to a skeleton, with very few full-time journalists on the payroll. Across the entire spectrum of the media – print, television and online- numerous journalists have been laid off following the financial constraints that have arisen due to the pandemic. A lot of the news reporting that is happening now is coming from citizen journalists.
This particular financial problem that the media is experiencing has two sides to it. One is that the media depends on government advertisement revenue that has now all but been reduced to a trickle. The other is that the pandemic has hit businesses – the other source of revenue -and they no more have the money for advertising. While the former gets it the bread, the latter is its butter.
Not much can be done about the former following the pandemic. The opposition has ensured that. Though media houses may hate the opposition for it, it was inevitable. The government’s spending on ads was more towards propaganda and propping up its failures with misinformation which the media has had no qualms in furthering. The opposition is right in asking the government to stop its advertisement spend at a time when the nation is hard-pressed for funds to deal with the pandemic.
When it comes to advertisement losses from businesses, the media has to ask itself questions about its own role in theses losses.
India is not the only country that has economic problems following the pandemic. Literally every nation has such problems. The difference is India is looking at a complete disaster while the others, at least most of them, are not. Before the pandemic hit other nations they were on sound footing with healthy GDP and other economic indicators. They will survive better and recover faster.
This is not the case in India. In India, when the present dispensation took over in 2014, we had an enviable 8.3% GDP and the economy was on an upward trend. Then came the mis-governance of the present dispensation, focusing on social engineering through communalism and casteism in pursuit of outdated ideology that disrupted the nation. This was followed by the irrational demonetization followed by the fiasco called GST that brought the GDP below 3.5% before the pandemic.
It did not require an Einstein to conclude when all this started from 2014 onward that it would destroy the economy. It was the job of the media from thereon to stand up to the government. Instead, the media played ball with government, questioning the opposition rather than the ruling government, which is unheard of any nation expect in repressive regimes helped along by a collusive media.
Had the media done its job, the economic story would have been quiet different. The media actively helped the government not only in the continuing destruction of democracy, undermining of the Constitution and tearing asunder the social fabric but also in ruining a thriving economy as well.
The media itself is to blame for all the financial problems it is facing today. If the economy was not destroyed, business houses would not be financially as hard-pressed as now. They would still have had money to spend on advertisements. With no money with people, the business houses do not have anything to sell that can be sold.
Gone are the days when a Ramnath Goenka stood up to the government putting at risk his business empire. Today all we have is spineless, greedy and self seeking media houses for whom journalism is not about being the fourth estate but about raking in the moolah.
If the media thinks that it can continue prostrating itself before the government of the day and still be able to survive, it is deluding itself. The economic collapse has been numerically defined by the IMF, projecting a negative GDP- first time since independence. Many banana republics are in a better shape than we are. The pandemic is completing the job that a incompetent government put on track.
The media’s survival now rests purely on going back to the very basic reason why it exists: to speak truth to power. The short-sighted and greedy media houses fell into the trap of greed and fear, ignoring the fact that all that the ruling government wants is a state controlled media that does its bidding. That is what it is now largely reduced to: an organ of the ruling party.
This day when the nation observes the sacrifice of journalist, it is time for journalists to question the business houses that run newspapers, magazines TV channels and online portals. It is time for them to speak truth to power. Perhaps now that their own live-hood has been affected they will do so.