By Prabhakar Kulkarni
The widespread expansion of news and views through mobile apps and social and other media outlets through electronic channels has created problems. Fake news and disinformation through these outlets have created undue mess about the ‘truth’ or ‘unbiased or objective interpretation of ‘truth’ of major issues and situations which are haunting sociopolitical environment in the country.
This social media mess and sanity of print is well disclosed by Mr. Ganguli in his recent article ‘Sanity of Print’ (TOI dt. 21st March). While the article has very convincingly pointed out what happens when people rely more on news and views circulated through electronic apps, social and non-print media outlets. Fake news and disinformation is said to be more in circulation than the ‘truth’ or facts, as the article points out.
But is the print media that impartial or objective or without any preconceived notion about selection of news and views? What about the editorial subjectivity or managerial policy restrictions which influence selection of news and views? The article presupposes that print media is quite objective and impartial and not biased and if one has to rely on truthful news stories and impartial interpretation of news and views one should turn to print media instead of being led away by the other outlets which are disturbing by disinformation.
That even print media is not that perfect and impartial as can be seen in variety of news stories and articles which are selected for publication. Whether newspaper organizations should have a policy for selection of publication or not is a matter of two opinions. In fact publication of newspaper is based on freedom of expression as a fundamental right under the Constitution of India. A person or citizen of India who cannot write can be an owner and an editor of a newspaper. He can start a newspaper and carry on by appointing editors and journalists. The same can be said about a corporate body which need not have any journalistic acumen.
But when selection of news and views is expected to be quite near to truth some interests creep in. If ‘truth’ and nothing but the ‘truth’ is an aim as claimed by the print media why banks and financial institutions were so far protected with immunity to exposure of the fraudulent deals going on inside banks ? The way print media protected bank has come to light when the recent bank frauds surfaced after actions by enforcement directorate. All banks and financial institutions in India are keeping better relations with the national English print media because it is this media which influences both the political and administrative wings of the government at the Center and States. While regional language media has influence on state governments, the Union government irrespective of ruling political parties is more influenced by national English print media. The reciprocity of cordial relations between national print media and banks and financial institutions is based on bulk of advertisements and reciprocal media services by way of positive news stories as also periodical interviews of heads of banks and financial institutions.
This may well be considered as quite in keeping with the professional standards in mutual interest. Both print and electronic media depend on advertisements for their existence and hence keeping such cordial relations is almost obligatory. News stories and interviews based on their development activities are therefore duly focused in the concerned media organs. Banks’ MDs and CEOs are projected in an ideal style focusing on their personal likes, hobbies and aspirations so that their ‘feel good’ mood is well nurtured.
But when something goes wrong, the news stories are not as flashed and covered with investigation as quickly and deeply as in any other sector events. Besides neglecting, editors and reporters are advised not to harp on crime stories relating to banks and when public demand necessitates disclosure they are advised by management not to mention banks’ names in the stories. (This writer has personal experience of this treatment). A few English newspapers which have special investigation editors are not so far known to have started any investigation against any nationalized bank nor has covered any story by special investigation in to banks’ objectionable operations in sanctioning of big loans in favor of the big and powerful who have received large amounts under various schemes and later they turned as willful defaulters.
This is because the banking sector is not kept in their domain of the investigative journalism. How and why media failed to focus and investigate may well be seen from a recent exposure carried out by an international media organization ‘Bloomberg’. Creating schemes and procedure favorable for big loan proposals is an art and RBI and banks seem to be quite proficient in it. ‘Bloomberg’ which has recently flashed one article exposed as to how the art of creating a rule for sanctioning big loans works well and the big clients get easy money of high quantum by way of loans which later turn in to NPAs. In the article titled ‘Lies and Statistics’ it is stated that ‘Corporate Debt Restructuring (CDR), Strategic Debt Restructuring (SDR) Scheme for Sustainable Structuring of Stressed Assets (S4 A) are regulator (RBI) sanctioned plans that allowed tax-payer funded banks to take ‘hair-cuts'(waiving loans) without the fear that their CEOs (banks chiefs) could be hauled to jail on charges of collusion with debtors. Some of these measures were introduced by the previous RBI governor Raghuram Rajan, points out the article.
Even in regard to selection of opinion articles editorial choice and personal considerations are more powerful than the very subject and public or reader-interest criteria. Editors with their personal likes of personalities and ideologies are the criteria for selecting subjects and articles as is revealed in a number of cases. The glaring case is of an editor who was so committed to a political heavyweight that an editorial written by editor of other daily of the same media group against that personality was harshly editorially counter-attacked by the committed editor with abusive words and style.
Thus while disclosing weakness of the Facebook, social media and WhatsApp and claiming sanity of print media, it is better to introspect and review weaknesses of the print media also so that the defective nature of selective sanity will be improved for the better.