Teesta Setalvad: Welcome to the Communalism Combat series of interviews, special interviews. This time with Senior Journalist P. Sainath, until very recently, July 31st, the Rural Affairs Editor of the Hindu and well acclaimed for his book,Everybody Loves a Good Drought. Today’s conversation will be about the corporatization of the media, the huge rural urban divide, the absence of rural reporting within the media and several related issues.
Welcome to Communalism Combat’s Special Interview.
A very good day to you, Sainath. It’s great to have you our show. Just wanted to look at a few of the things that you have been closely involved in and explore issues which you have also been closely analyzing, about the media in general.
- Sainath on Corporate subsidies
Teesta Setalvad: Could we start with a very important blog that you wrote a couple of weeks ago on the over Rs 5.6 lakh crores subsidy to the corporate sector in the last year’s budget which has been an un-interrupted trend over the past few years. What does it mean?
- Sainath: The thing you are talking about is called the statement of revenue foregone. It is a part of the budget, it is an annexure. It is never discussed by all these guys in the media who keep shouting about wasteful subsidies. The amount in the statements (of revenue foregone) each year usually exceeds the budget deficit.
Last year it was 8,000 crores more than the actual deficits in the budget, ok? Now, some of this which I don’t include in the total — It (the total) comes down from Rs 5.6 lakh crores — I don’t include income tax which affects the salaried, classes etc. The rest is direct corporate income tax which is about Rs 71,000 crores which is twice what you have put into the NREGAS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) this year.
Teesta Setalvad: And why is this being exempt?
- Sainath: Well you can give a whole host of reasons for it. These are incentives, they will create employment etc. As a matter of fact there is not an iota of evidence to show that these concessions have led to a single extra job being added. Look at the nature of the concessions. Rs 71,000 crores (is exemption of) direct corporate income tax. Some Rs two lakh crores, Eather Rs 1.5-2 lakh crores is custom duty exemptions. And one of the largest exemptions within this..
Teesta Setalvad: Jewellery…
- Sainath: Gold, diamonds and jewellery, exemptions for which this year, I mean for the previous year (2013-2014) is/was Rs 48,000 crores plus. In the last 36 months, the Government of India has written off Rs.1,60,000 crores of custom duties on gold and diamonds and jewellery. In a nine year period — because we have only data for nine years, though this has been going on for longer — the total amount of, you know, corporate income tax is over Rs 7 lakh crores. The total amount on all exemptions in this statement of revenue forgone comes to 36.5 trillion rupees. That’s about Rs 1, 28,000 per second. That’s what we write off.
Teesta Setalvad: Criminal ha?
- Sainath: Well, you see, when you give five rupees to the poor, you call to a subsidy, when you give five billion to the rich that’s an incentive.
- Sainath on the Ruling Elite
Teesta Setalvad: What does this signify? Has this trend sharpened with the shift to neo liberal economics? What is the difference between say UPA I and II’s focus and NDA II’s
focus ? What does it say about a nation’s priorities ?
- Sainath: It tells me something about the ruling elite’s priorities. That is not going to change. And this, by the way, this figure is actually for last year which is still UPA II. But there is no evidence at all, from when the BJP was in power last time that they will do anything different. Remember, that these are only the concessions in the budget. There are heaps of concessions outside the budget.
Teesta Setalvad: Like?
- Sainath: Well, your SEZs, the kind of concessions that you make to people for investing in certain places. The tax write offs, tax write offs that states government’s give, the municipality gives…
Teesta Setalvad: Water, land, electricity taxes.
- Sainath: Even panchayats give them concessions in land. All those concessions are not counted. This is just what the Central government budget does.
Teesta Setalvad: And the media does not at all look at this part of the budget.
- Sainath: I write this every year. I put up the total. And every year, you know, a few right wing economists will get very angry saying that this write-off is for the good of everybody; in the process their admitting that there is such a thing as a good subsidy and a bad subsidy, though they don’t realize that. Now, for instance, the oil marketing companies they claim that they loose so much absolutely, but their losses are notional, it is on an assumed price on an assumed day. That sort of a thing. But these are called notional, those others are not. Those are not called notional (subsidies).
Let me put it this way, in the nine years that we have written of this 36.5 trillion (rupees), for that amount you could run the NREGAS for 105 years. You could run your food security bill at current prices –I mean at current allocation levels –for something like 31 years.
Teesta Setalvad: So quite apart from the priorities of the ruling elite, don’t you think this attitude is also a reflection on the huge middle class that is voting certain kinds of Governments into power.
- Sainath: Well, it is a reflection on all of us, in terms of what kind of Governments are being brought in. For that matter, this May, we elected a Parliament, which has 82% of its members who are crorepatis. How are they going to reflect the interests of agricultural labourers ? How are they going to be reflect the interest of migrant labourers? Last Parliament (2009) it was 53% now its 82%.
- Sainath on Convergence of Media, Business and Politics
Teesta Setalvad: Talking about the media because a lot of your work and focus is on media; in fact you could be credited with actually opening of the media’s conscience in one way to a whole part of rural India with your seminal work on drought, among other things. What has changed in the media so much?
- Sainath: Three or four processes have overtaken the media, we have all been witness to them from the mid to late 80’s. See, first I think also one should understand this. Conventional journalism is about the service of power. Great journalism, in history, has always come from dissidents. There is no such thing has a great establishment journalist. OK? There is no such thing. They will be forgotten five years after the have retired. The one’s whose name you remember were all in their time and place, dissidents. From Thomos Paine to a Gandhi to an Ambedkar, every one of them was a dissident
Teesta Setalvad: Even Azad.
- Sainath: Even Azad, every one of them was a dissident. They were fighting against something. And that always produces, to my mind, journalism of value.
Teesta Setalvad: So today?
- Sainath: Today you are looking at the Indian media in its most corportisedavatar—- ever. Even family-owned newspapers are appointing CEOs and trying to emulate the corporate model. Everybody is locked into that model. The fact is that now you have three great groups with greater financial power than say some of the smaller states. You have Murdoch in broadcasting, you have Reliance in television and other forms of media and you have the Benett Coleman & Co, the Times of India group (in print). Nobody else in the field comes anywhere close to that kind of power.
So, one, is this the process of concentration of ownership; India has had two Press Commission in her history one in 1954 and one in 1980-81. Both expressed, both were very clear that the primary danger to press freedom in the country came from business house ownership of media. Both this press commissions –look at their papers, their research, everything –and the kind of submissions made before them, that’s clear.
Second, is that the rate of corportisation has been simply stunning.
Third, there are two more key factors which determine was going on. One, is what I called is new convergence. This is a non technological conversion. The new convergence is: large corporate, business houses are getting into the media in a gigantic way. Reliance is a perfect example. Two, large business house representatives have got into politics in a big way, 82% of your parliament is crorepatis many of them very leading businessmen.
Teesta Setalvad: So you are seeing the convergence of all these factors…
P Sainath: Then you have a large numbers of political families that have gone into business and gone into media, ok? And very large numbers of business families that have gone into media and into politics. That convergence, you can see, a prime example would be the Maran brothers; a guy is a minister presiding over a portfolio which directly governs his own interests, tight? So the Maran brothers there, the Akalis in the P TV, the Reddys in Sakshi and elsewhere, that convergence of politics, business and media is now more advanced than it has ever been in our history.
- Sainath on a Corporate Media
- Sainath: When you corporatize, there is a certain price that you pay. The disappearance of all the old beats and the coverage.
Teesta Setalvad: There is no beat coverage any more.
- Sainath: Well, when I joined journalism is 1980 in UNI, there was an employment correspondent, a labour correspondent. He covered labour. There were Agriculture correspondents in newspapers, who actually covered Agriculture. Today an Agriculture correspondent means the guy who covers the Agriculture minister. The Ministry correspondent, not someone who’s covering agriculture, through the seasons, from the market to the mandi. That is an Agriculture correspondent. In India, today, there is not a single Agriculture correspondent.
You don’t have a single correspondent today, covering, Poverty, fulltime. You don’t know have a single correspondent today covering Housing, Urban or Rural and Homelessness. You have what you call the Education correspondent in the Indian media who is really a Campus correspondent: at admissions time they will do the ‘woes of the middle class’ story. The primary education process, the elementary education related issues, none of that is being covered, where a process of the destruction of public resources is taking place.
Teesta Setalvad: And a withdrawal of the state from education …..
- Sainath: Orissa, Chattisgarh, they don’t hire teachers anymore, they hire the teacher helpers, the shiksha sahayyak in Orissa.
Teesta Setalvad: Even Maharashtra …
- Sainath: And you know, the shiksha sahayyak (teacher’s helper) in Orissa earns less than a person would through rural employment. Thirty days under the NREGAs you would earn more than as a shiksha sahayak. He is the teacher, the guy who is actually teaching in the class whatever you call him, he is the one who is running the class.
Teesta Setalvad: How will the media break out of this?
- Sainath: I don’t see that happening, I see the media breaking down rather than breaking out. I don’t see that as they get the more corporatized they get more… In a sense it opens up spaces for others to come out with alternatives.
Teesta Setalvad: What kind of alternatives?
- Sainath: That’s open. I think but again I am saying there are serious problem about how it’s going. The kind of concentration you are looking at. See, let me put it this way. The last process in the corporatization thing (process) is I believe that today the media have/has a structural compulsion to lie. Simple. I have said this many a time, done a paper on it, its serious. There is a structural compulsion to lie. There have no choice but to lie. Simple.
Teesta Setalvad: So what are the constituents of this lie?
- Sainath: The constituents are this: From 2001-2002 new systems began in the media called Private Treaties and Media Net, so you could openly, explicitly shop for editorial space.
Teesta Setalvad: What does this mean actually?
- Sainath: Ok, the private treaties, its not like a treaty between India Pakistan or something like that but it isn’t. The Private Treaty is essentially between say, you, as a mid-level level corporate, middle level business and me as the largest newspaper. You are keen to break into the top league. Like Kishore Biyani once was, a middle level retailer, he is now one of the top retailers in Asia. He signed a Private Treaty with the largest newspaper in the country. When that happens, there are different versions of this Private Treaty from different newspapers. By the way, they even fight over the brand name, ‘Private treaty’. They are not ashamed of it, they are proud of it. You can’t use the word brand name, so then you use Synergy Centre. Essentially what it consists of…
Teesta Setalvad: But this is almost paid news or it is paid news?
- Sainath: It is very much paid content, it is paid news in that sense. It is the precursor to what really happens with paid news, and it lays the basis. Because the manner of transaction here is this: You are this middle level corporate seeking my support; you’ve signed a treaty with me. Immediately, I acquire 7 to 10 % of shares in your company. When I acquire 7 to 10 % shares, there is absolutely no incentive for me to ever take a critical look at what is now my partly my own company.
Teesta Setalvad: Not only that, I will push your news more than anybody else’s?
- Sainath: And no reporter from my paper is going to do a negative story on you. I am part owner of the company. Seven to 10 % is not a small shareholding. So that’s the Private Treaty method. Now we pay each other off in these different ways. I get fixed shares and that’s adjusted against a certain fix amount of advertising.
Teesta Setalvad: And when did this actually begin?
- Sainath: Around 2001-2002 in the Private Treaty. I think, 2002.
- Sainath on Media’s Private Treaties with Big Business
- Sainath: The next thing that happens in the Private Treaty is this. I am regularly running those half page or quarter page or full page ads. And there’s a particular value. In 2008, all this ran of cliff with the Wall Street collapse. With the Wall Street collapse, newspapers were holding millions worth shares that weren’t worth the paper they were printed on. Now there was panic because you see what happens is that I still have to, by contract, print your ads. The income tax department doesn’t give a damn whether you are making profits or not or what the value of your shares are.
Teesta Setalvad: They want the tax.
- Sainath: We have seen 30 adds in your paper, we know your add rates, ‘Pay up’. So the Income tax department gets pretty tough on this, naturally. It is at that moment, when papers were caught in this incredibly bad situation– some of the newspapers which had never known losses before, went into the red.
Teesta Setalvad: Like?
- Sainath: Many of the big groups. What happens is that at that time is when newspapers decide to go in for paid news; because that is an under the table transaction, ok?
See, it’s not that paid news did not exist, but you know damn well that that it is in the 2009 elections, that it becomes huge. Because they are caught in this bind, they are paying taxes on value that they don’t have, right?
Teesta Setalvad: So what is the benefit they get through paid news?
- Sainath: Paid news benefits, in elections it benefits of politicians extremely well because it allows me, as a political candidate, to violate the expenditure limits with impunity. It allows you (the newspaper) to make money without paying income tax. Yours is the income tax benefit, mine is the expenditure breaching limit incentive. So, it works very well for you me and therefore, a gigantic shift takes place. Take one single fact. In the 2009 elections in Maharashtra the quantum of advertising which, at election times goes goes up massively, actually declined. In Maharashtra in the 2009 election formal advertising declined. Because everybody was doing paid news, right? So you have Mr. Chavan, in who’s honour a twelve page supplements appears in 12 or 13 editions of Lokmat which they claim this news. Now here’s the interesting things 12X13 is about the 156 pages without an ad on them but they are supposed to be news. There is not a single add on any one of this pages they called news.
The election commission demanded from the four news papers Maharashtra Times,Pudhari, Lokmat and Deshonatti is this news or is this advertising? They all replied that it was news that it was not paying news. Two of them defended it in terms of their closeness to the then the ruling party, the Congress. One of themselves said, we think, Mr. Chavan is the greatest leader ever. A guy who had been in his chair for eleven months got hundreds of pages (of advertising) in this state. At the same year, rather one year before him Barrack Obama was elected the first black American President, he never got 5 pages in any newspaper in the United States without an ad, ok? So you know what is going on here. This led up to the huge rise to hyper commercialization. Everything was for sale.
In 2009, I broke the story with names and it came to me from ministers. The first story came to me from a Minister complaining that the media were extorting from him and he was particularly offended because he was a former journalist and maybe he expected a discount! He stopped me at the Nagpur airport and complained bitterly. That’s how the whole thing started. Then he showed us rate cards that the different television channels had given him without their logos. It said ordinary profile 5 lakhs, special profile 10 lakhs, dawn to dust coverage/ package Rs 25 lakhs.
- Sainath on 2014 Elections and Media Manipulations
Teesta Setalvad: From the 2009 to come to the 2014 elections, the general elections, how do you describe it? Rs 5000 crores ? These are the figures that are being talked about. Is any institution going to look into it?
- Sainath: Beyond all limits. I saw a figure in the Financial Times, which said something over Rs 4000-4500 crores. I think it’s very easy to believe. I do not believe it would be exaggeration or so it becomes very difficult…. By the way I believe, I personally believe that two or three major corporate houses, opened little cells within their companies- they have media interests-they opened cells within their companies on the promotion of the Modi campaign.
Teesta Setalvad: Is this a first?
- Sainath: I had not come across that before. You had the individual corporate leaders preference but I think this time it was more systematic. 2009 gave it a system. Laid the foundation for such a system; when a leading newspaper in this state, a Marathi paper, its editors were asked, at a meeting, how many seats are there in Maharashtra? 288. Then, they were asked, how many does one have to win to have a majority? 145. How much does it cost to win a seat, the chief financial officer and CEO of the company asked the 9 group editors. So these guys made a back of the envelop calculation and said 3 to 5 crores for seat; which is a joke because in Maharashtra the assembly seats is about 12 to 15 crores. But the fact is the CFO then did a calculation on the back on the back of an envelope. (Two of the editors rang me up and spoke to me about it). He did a calculation on the back of an envelope and said, so this is what is going to be spent of the election campaign. We must target (getting) at least 25 to 30 % of that.
Teesta Setalvad: So media today is not talking about any principled coverage, furthering the foundations of the Indian republic, Constitutionalism?
- Sainath: That’s nonsense. It’s a fundamental world view difference, in that, are you viewing journalism as a vehicle of communication, connecting with society or are you viewing journalism as a revenue stream? This world view entrenches and glorifies journalism as a revenue stream. Everything else has to fit with that.
Teesta Setalvad: And the Modi campaign has taken this to extraordinary heights?
- Sainath: Absolutely. It’s going to get worse, ok? Now in 2008 if you read the New Yorker you have Mr. Vineet Jain (Benett Coleman & Co) telling the New Yorker on record, ‘We are not in the newspaper business. We are in the advertising business’. Then another unnamed official of the company says, ‘You can describe us as a large equity firm with significant media interest.’
Teesta Setalvad: What is Arnav Goswami in Times Now?
- Sainath: Well, I think that it is very much part of the corporate framework, where do they depart from the corporate framework?
Teesta Setalvad: So how does it impinge, the issues they raise, how they raise them, who they call as the guests to the channel, how does it work? Because you find the increasing irrelevance of the electronic television….
- Sainath: In the entire discussion over the last few months, since the Modi government has comes to power, the first thing on its agenda, which they going about very aggressively, is the so-called labour reforms. Rajasthan has pushed it through, saying we need to a gift incentives to employers to hire more people. There’s too much of this workers’ rights business.
Now, every newspaper has written an editorial supporting this move or saying you know with a few mandatory cautions you know do the surgery, but don’t cut the wrong organs, whatever. However, not one channel has had or newspapers had a voice of a worker reflected in the coverage.
Second, 93% of Indian workers are in the unorganized sector. They have no rights at all. OK. Now what you are trying to do is to get the other 7% to their level and legitimizing the conditions that this 93% work under….
Teesta Setalvad: Your shikshak sahayak…..
- Sainath: Your construction labourer, your aanganwadi worker nobody can claim any rights as the so-called labour reforms…
Teesta Setalvad: And there is no honest debate around on that issue.
- Sainath: There is no debate. You might have occasionally a newspaper carrying a peace by Harsh Mander who dutifully confronts this kind of nonsense. You might have one or two pieces. You might find a piece by me in one of the newspapers on this. But it’s a question of 98 to 2 per cent.
- Sainath on Media Alternatives and Media Interests
Teesta Setalvad: So where and how you will the alternate emerge? You said there are possibilities which will be unconventional. How will they emerge?
- Sainath: Ok, but again to get that alternative, you have to understand what it is now. Today the nature of integration of industry and media is so severe, so severe. I count two hundred industries which are represented in the media. You can look at aviation like Kingfisher and GoAir represented in various media ventures. You can look at aviation to agriculture, mining to coal blocks to gas you name it, the Media has a conflict it is the greatest glaring instance of conflict of interest in any industry. That’s one. Second is, this brute corporate power is also being used to intimidate.
Teesta Setalvad : And to kill protest?
- Sainath: Anybody says anything send him a Rs 50 crores legal notice or a 100 crores legal notice. When Reliance sends such a notice to Paranjoy Guha Thakurta they not really targeting my old friend Paranjoy. They are really sending a message to you and to me, don’t you dare! Ok, that is the game. So this is the new thing of hitting someone with libel suits and something like that. But the third thing is if you look at the range of interests….there is a fun exercise I do every now and then. Some of this companies actually have their directors, and board of directors on the web. Now if you look at the largest newspaper in the country isDainik Jagran….
Teesta Setalvad: The Jagran group actually the huge hand in the Modi campaign. Huge.
- Sainath: They might be one of the largest newspapers, perhaps on the planet. They claim 53 million readers, I am sure they have half of that. Now if you look at their board of directors, I did that two three years ago. Look at all these companies, find me how many journalists or anyone connected with journalism are there on the Boards. You will find like I found the South Asia chief of McDonald’s! I found at least one Irish guy from the World Association of Newspapers. (He doesn’t know word of the Hindi!). I found two top corporate tax lawyers, three real estate guys.
So, I am looking at several of these companies, it is impossible to find any big journalist’s name on the Boards. Because they are telling you clearly, very clearly, what do newspapers have to do with journalism? Newspapers are a revenue stream.
- Sainath on the Idealism and the Journalist
Teesta Setalvad: You got a huge fan following among the young journalist. You are called all over to lecture how do you keep the idealism going in this scenario?
- Sainath: See, I think by the nature of this profession is such in history and even the most rightwing cynics in the media today, I knew that because they were my contemporaries 30 years ago. They did not join that way. They were idealist then. They came to the media with ideals. They came to the media with the aim of connecting, with trying to do something. And historically in India and in other third world countries this is very strong idea (tradition). There is no nationalist leader in the freedom, struggle male or female, who did not double up as a journalist …..
Teesta Setalvad: Absolutely.
- Sainath: Why does an Ambedkar go so deep into the media, why does a Gandhi go so deep into the media ….
Teesta Setalvad: Maulana Azad
- Sainath: Maulana Azad. The entire roster of them is in the media as a tool of social change, as a way of connecting were the masses. In 1893 the British Government send the guy called S H A Merewith. He was a Reuters correspondent. He comes out here in order to defend the work the British Administrators are doing –he writes that in his book. ‘They wanted me to answer.’ he says, ‘the noisy riff raff of the national press. ’
How small was your national media! Now here’s your paradox. In 1893, a tiny Indian media represented a gigantic social role. Today, a gigantic- Indian media represents the narrowest social goal. That’s the conversion.
- Sainath on Paid news
- Sainath: The alternatives. One you have zero alternatives if you are not prepared to confront monopoly; which means politically, journalistically and legally. Legally. Unless you have a law that bars paid news. By the way, we can bring out any exposes as we like, there is no such legal bar that says so many years in jail for paid news. That paid news is an offence. Paid news is not a crime. There is no such legal Bar.
Speaking of censorship, in 2010 there was a debate on in parliament on Paid News and, believe me it was one of the best debates in Parliament. Arun Jaitley, the current finance minister, made a fabulous speech, and you had Ambika Soni on the same line as you had Sitaram Yechury all in absolute agreement that what is happening is going out of hand.
So your alternatives, number one is to have an anti-monopoly legislation. It exists even in the United States nominally though Murdoch has succeeded in toning it down substantively. In India there is not a single cross ownership restriction, which means you cannot be the only game in town. You cannot own the only portal, the only newspaper, the only radio station and the only TV station. Today, in India, you can. Nothing stops you.
Second, there is no monopoly, that you cannot control 80% of the circulation in the country. There is no such limit on this.
Teesta Setalvad: Yet we have monopoly and restricted trade practices otherwise. But not for the media.
- Sainath: Not for the media. Third, and here there is another hypocrisy of the media. Whenever they go about the aggressively and people like us as journalists raise questions on ethics of content, they said this is a business like any other business.
The moment you try doing anything about it, then they cry ‘freedom of expression’, ‘press freedom in danger’.
So, one you are going to have to, like it or not have to legislate on the question media ownership against concentration against obliteration of diversity in the Indian media. That’s one. You have no option. Two, you need to give a very serious thought to the links between large corporate houses and media. At least in the newspapers you have first to declare once a year, ownership patterns, Television has no such obligation. Online media has no such obligation.
Teesta Setalvad: The viewing public and the reading public has right to know who’s the money behind the throne….
- Sainath: And you have to establish that the airways, for example, are public. And therefore the public has every right to know and a public has a right to see that 95% of the airwaves are not captured by and dominated ….. by Reliance. That also is very important. The next thing you need to do is to greatly strengthen your public broadcasters make them not so much government broadcasters, but public broadcasters.
Teesta Setalvad: But Public ?
- Sainath: And I will say this I mean you can laugh at me, I would say over the last 5-6 years I have seen far better political discussions on serious issues on Loksabha TV and Rajyasabha TV than I have…
Teesta Setalvad: I fully agree with you. There has been a consistent effort by the Vice President’s Office as Chair of the Rajya Sabha, because I think they are in charge.
- Sainath: Yes because it is Parliament they are answerable to…
Teesta Setalvad: That’s right, so it’s Parliament that is responsible which is cross party.
- Sainath: Yes
Teesta Setalvad: So its not one government trying to control the medium. In fact you have much better programming on Rajyasabha and Loksabha television then you have all the private channels.
- Sainath: It is like the Canadian broadcasting corporation to that extent. That all parties can project.
Teesta Setalvad: But you know exploring other models like like ‘Democracy Now’, something like other public broadcasting models, these are the kind models we need.
- Sainath: You need, you need something other models for sure. but the reach of the public broadcaster is immense –the reach and infrastructure is already in existence. So you can actually reach a very much larger than the private if you make that efforts.
- Sainath on Contract Journalism and the Loss of Independence and Integrity
- Sainath: I believe this seriously you cannot do anything in the current situation without rebuilding the Unions and Association of Journalists ……..
Teesta Setalvad: You were active in the Bombay Union of journalists so was I, but today unions are….
- Sainath: They are gone. They were destroyed by contract journalism. Now here is a huge legal situation that needs to be confronted. I believe that contract journalism is violative of the loss of the land.
There is such a thing called a Working Journalists Act. If there is the Constitution of India that says I cannot be your slave, I cannot enter into a private contract to be your slave. Right, I am saying that I think this entire contract system is violative of the Indian law of Indian law. The enforcement of the Working Journalist Act is something that we all have to fight for.
During the paid news scandal when it’s first broke I got call from a veteran journalist in the state, with two years more experience than I, and I had 34 years.
So, he asked me, this very senior journalist. He first said, tomorrow you will see my name on a paid news interview but I assure you, I made no money out of it. I asked him, what happened ? He said that you know 34 years, 30 years ago when you and I started, there was a Working Journalist’s Act and we were protected by and that, there was a Union that would stand by us if we stood up to something. Now, I am on an 11 month contract and now in the 8 month of my contract. The management calls me and tell me, here is this story on this leader it’s already been done by a PR agency; you improve it, will go on your name because we need a senior journalist’s name on top of the senior politicians interview.
He said to me, ‘Sainath I got two kids school and college, I got a mom in hospital, I got EMI of 30,000 you want me to be a hero?’ I could not ask him to be a hero. Ok.
So that helplessness of that contract person like contract labour absolutely finished an utterly honest, scrupulously honest journalist. He had no union to defend him, no association that he could turn to, he had nothing. They would just not renew his contract. They could say he was bad at his job.
Teesta Setalvad: So the new contract system rendered journalism vulnerable…
- Sainath: So that the breakdown of the unions, the breakdown of the associations removed the independence of the journalist. Totally. It left us at the mercy of these managements and corporates. And that’s a very huge thing.
Lastly, we must come to the alternative, again. We have to deal with this legally and enforce the law of the land in terms of the Working Journalists Act and make it very difficult to victimize the honest journalist.
- Sainath on Public Action and the Media
- Sainath: The last thing is public action. One, I think that it is very good that huge numbers of different initiatives emerge, in the media through online efforts like these/yours. You spoke of the ‘Democracy Now’ model. That’s one very important one. There is also simply Public Broadcasting that needs to be strengthened.
At the same time I am very reluctant to get ourselves ghettoized into ‘so-called alternatives’. The mainstream media was built by the people of this country; it exists because of the protection of the people of this country. We saw that during the emergency, right ?
Teesta Setalvad: In the last 9 months I think over 11000 journalist and technicians have lost their jobs.
- Sainath: I would say quite of few more since 2009 after the 2008 crises there was this collapse.
Teesta Setalvad: And some of them are in a pathetic condition I met some people at the press club recently, journalists have been forced to become panwalas, they are running rickshaws, because they were just hired in the flush of the corporatization, are now without jobs.’
- Sainath: So then, this calls for public action in terms of a intervening in what the media in our society, shows. The public action in demanding that within the media there is a public space which is not for sale, which is not corporate driven, not advertising driven, that there is a public space.
And, also the public action in terms of compelling the government to adopt policies and legislation, to preserve the integrity and independence of the media. In one phrase, you need a radical democratization of the media.
- Sainath on new Project, People’s Archive for a Rural India (PARI)
Teesta Setalvad: Just a quick few sentences on your project which you are going to launch
- Sainath: A few friends of mine and I are setting up —it will be online, in about two- three months time –what is called the People’s Archive for Rural India (PARI). It is an online effort, an idea which came up when I realized the physical archive won’t work and young people won’t go to them; they are on the net so it is on the net. The People’s Archive of Rural India captures the everyday life of everyday people. In the formats, audio, video, text, still photograph and text articles. It puts together the life of ordinary people, as told by those people. A potter taking you through his craft from where he is digging in the ditches for the clay that goes into the making of the exquisite Bankura pots. They are looking at the labour process the value that ordinary people bring including — it has a large urban dimension– in that we looking at the rural in the urban.
All these cities run on migrate labour, their energies. So we are trying to do this we also trying to capture every Indian language there is, may be at least one recording in the 780 languages. I don’t know how many 50 years or 100 years that will take. That’s the process we are trying to achieve
Teesta Setalvad: A lot of your time goes into this.
- Sainath: At this moment most of my time goes into this effort.
- Sainath on Hard Economic Right Wing
- Sainath: Another phenomenon, in Indian journalism which is relatively new, is the emergence of a Hard Right Wing amongst the very small layer of journalists, but very powerful one…
Teesta Setalvad: What you mean by the Hard Right Wing ?
- Sainath: Extreme contempt in discourse for mass interest and the poor… and this is all you know dismissed as bleeding heart nonsense. What’s good for business is good for India, you know, never mind, what happens to the workers, you need labour reform and the malik’s must have a right to hire and fire– as of they don’t –when 93% of the work force is
And, extremely contemptuous of your, say, the rural employment guaranteed thing, the need to provide employment for people; extremely hostile to the food security questions. These were not the ways, this was not the way, they dealt with issues earlier.
Teesta Setalvad: Don’t you feel that the writing in India is very uniquely a convergence between the high economic writing and social religious political writing?
- Sainath: ….but understand this I mean I think this is important. I was just going to say that the right wing in the media always existed in the social religious sense. It was always there. That was there from the days of, you know, Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League. They were always there. They were there in a societal, social phenomena. But very few of them argued or campaigned right wing economics. Now, that is seen, and say in your major business papers and in the large very large general newspapers, neo- liberalism is seen as normalcy. If you deviate from that, you are an idiot.
There is something wrong with you to say that this is a wrong thing to do, to displace millions of people is not a good idea. That is obviously, you are obviously all kind of idiot, a left wing deviant.
I mean a Gandhi or an Ambedkar would be seen as dangerous left wing loonies today. For the kind of stuff they spoke. So this emergence of the economic rightwing –I should have qualified that–is relatively new and it’s fit perfectly well with the socio economic philosophy.
- Sainath on Internet Monopolies and Democratisation
Teesta Setalvad: How does the extent and expanse of internet penetration reflect business corporate domination. And what will this do to the media ?
- Sainath: I think it will devastate the existing newspaper world. We’ve been very pleased with ourselves (so far) that, while newspapers, are declining in the west but are growing in circulation in India. I am not quite sure what the growth rate of that circulation and what it tells us. I can tell you that in internet you know what really we should be talking about is the penetration of broadband.
Sixty per cent of more of interest is email from cybercafés, ok?
When you get into the broadband, and people start reading newspapers online then you get to see serious erosion. I think that within 5 to 10 years, the newspapers that do not plan for that, that do not prepare for a digital platform within 5 years are sunk, will be in very bad trouble.
So, that has some good in it, some bad in it. It opens up some spaces but it also creates larger arenas of monopoly. Most people think that the internet is free space.
There are the largest monopolies in the world that are on the internet whether its Google, Yahoo, Facebook you know any of this sites, twitter.
No other one sector of the world does one company get 40% of all the revenues on advertisement, on the net. Like a Google does; those monopolies are scary; they are much more dangerous than are regular media monopolies because these guys own your personal data, they sell it, they trade on it. Murdoch could not do that. The Times of India can’t do that. But the online monopolist can do that.
I think that we are in for a very rocky time ahead in the media unless we formulate the proper democratic response.
Teesta Setalvad: And some regulation…
- Sainath: A lot of regulation, I will say that without hesitation.
Teesta Setalvad: Thank you so much.
- Sainath: Welcome.
Teesta Setalvad: Communalism Combat will return soon, with one more round of special interviews. Keep watching this space for another interview on issues that matter. Thank you.