Stuart Allan’s introductory essay titled ‘Hidden in plain sight – journalism’s critical issues’ to the book Journalism: Critical Issues edited by himself begins with a quote from George Orwell that says “At any given moment there is a sort of all-pervading orthodoxy, a general tacit agreement not to discuss large and uncomfortable facts.”
Immediately after the quote, Allan says: “These are troubled times for journalism.” He goes on to argue that the state of crisis is even leading to the danger of journalism losing its place in a democratic country. Allan says that many in the “once proud profession” are wondering if they have been gradually exposed to “the relentless pull of populism, politics and profits on its rapidly fraying threads.” He is referring to the crisis of journalism in the West, though there were contributors to his book from other parts of the world. When we reflect on these issues, one cannot help but think about what actually is happening to the media, particularly the news media, in India.
Media critics and practitioners are faced with certain reluctance to make an inquiry over the current state of the media based purely on the perspective of industry-laden economics or on the status of the “once proud profession” falling trap to hyper-nationalism. Most mainstream national news media seem to have stopped hiding behind the facade of “objectivity and fair-play”. They now wear extreme nationalism on their sleeves and truly content echoing or rather parroting the agenda of hyper-nationalism propagated by the ruling regime.
The popular understanding of the media in India was dependent upon what was being taught in the “old-school” media institutes throughout the country. In the case of news media, many have been taught how one acquires “news sense” over a period of time having done “reporting” and “desk” jobs. However, there is no uniformity or a set of parameters that decide what is news or information. Moreover, what is the credibility of those who are in the business of gathering and producing news and information from areas considered non-mainstream? Astute citizens do not seem to be asking these questions anymore.
There are gamut of issues now: on the one hand, there is the issue of “information deficit”, “neglect” and “stereotyping” of regions, classes and communities and “neighbours” by the media, and on the other, there is the issue of viable existence of these very media based on their proximity to the corridors of power. Even within regions, it has been observed that there is asymmetrical flow of information. While trying to convert whatever constitutes the mainstream, there has always been a tendency to neglect fringe areas thus perpetuating the existence of the core and the periphery in little islands of imagined territories. With the current obsession of most media houses to tow the extreme nationalist lines, rational debates on the core and the periphery seem to have vanished like the fleeting clouds.