With more than 80,000 newspapers and over 850 satellite channels in several languages, Indians are seemingly spoilt for choice and diversity. India is coined as the biggest newspaper market in the world, over 10 crore copies of newspaper sold every day. In the past two decades, the number of channels has grown from one-to more than 850, of which more than 410 are news channels.
But in recent days media is under fire for the reason or the other. In this heat of elections news television is proactive but also it faces accusations of biased news, skewed surveys, opinion polls and paid news from people like Arvind Kejriwal, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Sam Pitroda and Rahul Khullar.
President of India, Pranab Mukherjee while speaking at the Platinum Jubilee ceremony of Indian Newspaper Society on 27th February stated that, it is distressing to note that some publications have resorted to 'paid news' and other such marketing strategies to drive their revenues. There is need for self-correcting mechanisms to check such aberrations.”
He further said that the temptation to “dumb down” news should also be resisted. “The nation faces critical challenges that go well beyond the pressure of 'Breaking News' and immediate headlines. While you must continue to be effective raconteurs, you must also be visionary nation builders. You are, after all, the crystal ball that millions of Indians gaze at. It is your responsibility and your bounden duty to ensure that ideas are debated dispassionately and thoughts articulated without fear or favour so that opinion is always well informed,” the President added.
Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde while addressing the Youth Congress in Maharashtra alleged media and stated that since the last four months a section of the electronic media is "manipulating" news about him and his party and warned it would be "crushed" if this kind of reportage is not stopped immediately.
However, after facing criticism by many people, he denied making a statement against the electronic media. Instead he said that his comments were on social media with regards to the issue related to the North-East students who were being targeted in Hyderabad and Karnataka. I never said that the electronic media should be demolished or crushed," he further elaborated.
Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar on 24th February also criticised media for biased news coverage and alleged that many journalists were doing opposition-sponsored paid news reporting. He stated that "What is a reporter's salary, how much does a news reader earn? Maybe Rs 25,000. They are mostly graduates. They are not great thinkers...intellectuals. They write news how they understand it."
Parrikar further stated that there was prevalence of paid news in Goa, where "people take money to write". "We all know which political party runs the paper. We also know which paper has what political inclination."
Corporate Involvement in media
Kejriwal in his first public rally after resigning as Delhi chief minister on 24th February in Haryana criticized not only Congress and BJP but also Reliance, its owner Mukesh Ambani and media.
He alleged that there was a nexus between media organisations and the Ambanis. “Mukesh Ambani has bought some TV channels and newspapers. They have been told to give extensive coverage to Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi. There is an English newspaper in Delhi whose owners own gas reserves and they have started writing against us,” he said.
He also criticised media reports on pre-poll surveys, which had given the party not more than 10 seats in the Delhi Assembly. “They (the media organistions) have taken money and shown wrong results,” he said.
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Chairman Rahul Khullar in an interview also raised concern for media freedom. In interview he stated that, there are many troublesome issues and each needs to be deliberated upon to ensure the media's freedom of speech. There are three main kinds of owners - politicians, corporate houses, and non-media corporate establishments. We have to deal with the ownership issues surrounding each. There are some critical areas that need to be looked into. At media firms owned by corporate houses, where is the line dividing boardrooms and newsrooms?
There also is the question of editors' independence from boards. The directors of a company owning a media firm should not dictate journalists what they should write. If a media company owned by a corporate house expresses views in a certain way (which it is free to do), there should be appropriate disclaimers, such as a clear identification of ownership. Politicians owning media houses book advertisements and publish their own propaganda.
In recent days many political parties has criticized media for publishing opinion poll before or during the election time. Their view is that these surveys are unauthentic and presented under the influence of different people. Satish Chandra Mishra BSP general secretary on this issue stated that presenting opinion poll during the ongoing election can change the voters mind.
Aam Aadmi Party leader, Arvind Kejriwal, on 2nd March 2014 has written a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner and the National Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) seeking guidelines for publishing opinion poll.
Kejriwal said his party did not favour a blanket ban on opinion polls, and urged the Election Commission to issue clear guidelines to organisations conducting such polls and print/electronic media which intend to publish/telecast such polls for fixing the accountability of the job done by them.
Although Election Commission of India on 15th November 2013 had already sent a letter to government to enact a law banning the release of their result after the notification of election.
This view was articulated in a letter to the Union Ministry for Law & Justice which had in September 2013 asked the Commission for its view on whether the ban on opinion polls should be effective from the date of announcement or notification of an elections, how much will this be followed in get to be seen.
But Arun Jaitley leader of house in Upper House condemns this Election Commission move to ban opinion poll immediately after notification of election. His contention to condemn the move is that any restriction would “fall in the realm of a restriction on the Fundamental Right to Freedom and Expression guaranteed in Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution.”
In Support of media
Against the backdrop of attack on media by different people, the Editors Guild of India on objected to "unsubstantiated charges" leveled by public figures dissatisfied with the coverage of their activities or with criticism. The Guild appealed to political leaders and public figures not to resort to "vague, unsubstantiated charges of corrupt motives and abuses when refuting, questioning or criticising the media and keep the public discourse civil and within reasonsable bounds."
In a statement here, the Guild said it is "distressing" to find a person like Gen VK Singh using the term "presstitutes" to describe journalists who wrote a story on the movement of Army units causing concern to the government.
News Broadcasters Association (NBA) on 25th February also made a statement, in which it has critisised political leaders and public figures for putting baseless charges against the media.
The Association has made this statement after a controversy broke out over Union Home Minister Sushil kumar Shinde threatening the electronic media for carrying out “propaganda” against the Congress. The NBA statement is also critical of Mr. Kejriwal for attributing motives for the media ignoring his party.