Posted by: Vikram | August 14, 2008

India’s ‘Murdored’ news media

What I am writing about today perhaps has been written about before, in fact a google search on ‘Indian media blog’ did not not throw up any Sardesais or Prannoy Roys. Indeed it seems India’s netizens (including me) have quite a bit more vitriol against its TV and movie media. But, Daya Kishan Thussu, professor of International Communication, was perhaps a more rational voice to turn to. Before discussing what he and Smita Gupta had to say about the Indian media, let me recount my experience with the Indian media just today. The BBC reported fairly prominently about the killing of 4 farmers by police in Uttar Pradesh, so did the Hindu, whom Thussu rightfully calls India’s most respected daily newspaper. What do you think the headlines on NDTV and IBN were ? Apparently, an Olympic gold medal and some nonsense resolution by Pakistan are more important than the lives of four Indians.

Thussu compares the case of Star News in India to Fox News in USA (both owned by arch capitalist Rupert Murdoch), which as he correctly points out is “brazen right wing propoganda”, in the case of India right wing is replaced by neo-liberal. He worryingly points out,

When not covering stories about celebrities, Star News focuses on political sleaze and scandal, exposing bureaucratic mismanagement and corruption in PSUs and small private enterprises, but rarely, if ever the larger corporate groups.

So, if you are waiting for exposes of land grabbing and botched resettlement, think again. The Indian farmer, is just an afterthought, the minds of the Indian middle class are in the stock market and hearts in Bollywood. IBN’s recent headline was “The Great Urban Indian family”, the rural households of India are not even obliged this token compliment. Indeed, Thussu quotes P. Sainath,

In 3 days, the big media gave the ‘suffering’ in the stock market more space then they had to thousand’s farmers’ suicides in the past few years.

Thussu, points to the growing Bollywoodization of news, devoting an entire section to it. This is not just trivialization of news, but blatant cultural imperialism. India has a rich and diverse cinema industry, instead of displacing myths that many urban Indians (especially in the North) have about the other regions, it reinforces their belief about their cultural superiority. It is not surprising then that foreign news has all but disappeared from mainstream Indian media and the ‘foreign’ entity covered the most is the ‘NRI’,

Where there is foreign coverage, …. such as … the wedding of the daughter of India-born steel magnate Luxmi Narain Mittal, the richest man in Britain, and the famous wadrobe of Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai …

Unlike America, which has a similar news culture India is not in a safe and secure geopolitical arena, plus the Iraq war illustrates the potentially disastrous effect of a foreign news blackout.

To be fair the TV news ‘market’ is fiercely competitive as Thussu details their National reach,

Network …. All-India reach

Aaj Tak 48.9 %

NDTV India 46.9 %

Zee News 38.0 %

Star News 34.6 %

NDTV 24×7 33.3 %

DD News 32.7 %

Sahara Samay 22.7 %

Headlines Today 19.7 %

and the news media does occasionally do its duty and there are alternate sources, but somehow I dont think that this ‘capitalist’ news has any invisible hand. Thussu concludes,

It could have been a different story: globalization could have elevated Indian television news to an international level, given the advantage of having emerged from a vigorously autonomous, critically informed and English-fluent journalistic culture, ….. However, the market, Murdoch and Murdochization seem to have militated against such a prospect.



  1. They need to show what sells. So they do that. Indian farmers are not going to foot the transponder costs are they?

    Well, the fixed costs of the media setup should be coming in from FDI. The real game starts afterwards, the costs are mostly personnel costs and the money is made via advertising. One has to ask why the Hindu and the BBC can maintain their standards and these channels cannot.

  2. I remember a dialogue from the Hindi movie Page 3, Boman Irani saying “bikta hai to Chhapna padta hai” meaning If it sells, we have to print/broadcast.

    Looking at the cut throat competition in Media market, no wonder most of the news channels are in the business of manufacturing news out of nowhere. All my anger and sympathies are with them.

    Here’s my post on them

  3. Vikram there is a market for BBC/Hindu and there is a market for the NDTVs and FOX TVs of the world. I do not think there should be just one “standard”. Let the people get what they want. Ultimately there is something out there for every taste. Lighten up watch India TV or Star News sometimes just for the laughs.

  4. Your article reflects my own experiences with Indian media. I used to joke that in India as suggested by the Media, the only foreign countries that exist are mostly Pakistan, the US (sometimes), and maybe UK at times, the rest of the world does not exist at all.

    But I’ll also have to agree with Odzer. Every country having free (or free-ish) press, always has a variety of quality levels of news on offer. Some people really do not care about the more serious issues of the world, instead they would rather hear the latest gossip about their favourite celebrities; Ignorance may truly be bliss…

    What however does bother me is how the tabloid style of reporting has seeped into serious issues. If you read three different Indian newspapers, for every event you have three different versions. News has become so valuable that in order to fill the pages it has become ok to simply make it up.
    When I used to read about a terrorist bombing, I wasn’t sure if 100 had died or 1000. Or if it even happened at all to that extent. Having had the misfortune of being featured in a newspaper myself (and grossly misquoted) makes me take everything I read with a big grain of salt…

  5. I was reading my teacher’s blog the other day and was overwhelmed to know that he believes in a principle to the core- “Do not talk about individuals, talk about issues”. I’ve seen him implementing this. On this context, let me address the current Indian media. Everytime when I tackle such issues, I borrow heavily from P Sainath sir, my favorite journalist. It’s long since our country’s media has taken up actual “issues” and done justice with them- price rise, farm crisis and rural injustice being the worst reported till date.

    We live in a country where every issue is reduced to a fight between individuals, heroic, villainous or just fun figures. So the complex issues behind the shunning of Pakistani cricketers by the Indian Premier League have reduced to a fight between Shah Rukh Khan and Bal Thackeray. The agonies of Bundelkhand are not about hunger and distress in our Tiger Economy. They are just a stand-off between Rahul Gandhi and Mayawati. The issues of language and migrations in Maharashtra are merely a battle between Rahul Gandhi and Uddhav Thackeray. And the coverage is all about who blinked first, who lost face. Here I go again, taking lot many names, again.

    As our TV and newspaper reporters blabber, I read somewhere “freedom of expression”. Frankly, we have neither. All we are left off with, is twisted freedom and a tortured expression. Issues today are either used to scare people, or entertain them. And all we do about it is hold a bag of popcorn and watch.


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