Print mediaOnce upon a time, newspapers were tame animals. They only doled out news items that were fed to them by news agencies. Newspapers from different business houses published identical news items sourced from PTI for domestic news and Reuters for international news. Sarkari news was distributed by the Press Information Bureau run by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry. Most big ads, especially Tender notices came from the Government which also controlled newsprint allotment. The government control was complete. News conferences were very rare. There were very few reporters. There was little investigative journalism and even less sensational scoops. Some exceptions were the Bofors deal that was assiduously pursued by the Hindu. Another spicy scandal was the Reliance one that was dished out by the Indian Express. 

News Scoops were the specialty of weekly tabloids like Blitz and Current. The two had positioned themselves with diametrically opposite political stances. These tabloids did not command the same respect or credibility. Blitz’s marketing gimmick was to publish the pin up of a starlet or model on the last page. Occasionally there were rumours that their owners now and then planted imaginary scandals and were used by the government to target and tarnish uncooperative or inconvenient bureaucrats and politicians.

MagazinesThen came the new era of glossy news magazines, led by India Today and others like Frontline and Outlook. Since routine news reporting was done by the dailies, such magazines had to do something more original. Their format was designed by copying or emulating Time or Newsweek. They vigorously introduced sensational investigative stories about corruption, moral turpitude, film news etc.

It is astonishing how much transformation the media has undergone today. Newspapers have become more dynamic and are now and then exposing scandals and digging out news items from the farthest corners of the country and even overseas. They have a large number of stringers doing the rounds of courts and government offices. Together with the visual media, they have exposed several mega scandals. The vociferous print media, ably backed by the TV news channels, exposed the corruption ridden Manmohan Government in the last few years leading to the election of the BJP Government in 2014.

Lately, news reporting has become a rat race. TV channels are constantly vying with each other flashing ‘Breaking News’ and are engaged in a dog fight for TRPs. Every evening their moderators hold durbars at which political parties are pitted against each other and tried through no holds barred slanging matches mildly called debates. Even simple issues are sensationalised. Every channel declares that it is the most watched channel. Every paper claims that it is the most preferred paper. In the good old days, oil Companies shared common storage facilities and sold the same oil. Yet constantly they ran high pitched sales campaign   bragging ‘My oil is better than yours’. Media is now following the same gimmick.

Media has extended its active presence even in court rooms thanks to its power of publicity. Formerly court proceedings were aptly called hearings. Judges would only attentively listen to arguments advanced by the counsels and observe the demeanour and body language of witnesses to assess their veracity. Occasionally they would seek clarifications or pose questions to help their understanding. None attending the proceedings could easily hazard a guess which way the judgement would go. Judges always kept a guarded neutral stance.

To a layman it appears that nowadays, even the judiciary seems to have caught the same infection that afflicts the print and news media. Judges are no more silent listeners. Court hearings are interspersed with acidic comments by judges that reach TV media even as the proceedings continue in the court room. Judges at the highest level are making dramatic observations in open court castigating the accused  or the government. Lawyers explain that these are only simple observations not to be confused with findings or interpreted as judgement.

At the Coalgate case hearing, a learned judge called CBI a ‘caged bird’. It was a very apt observation. It found a prominent place in the TV and newspapers immediately and CBI virtually became an object of public ridicule. The Apex court also received a lot of publicity and kudos. Since then the court has been making frequent observations in various cases, not amounting to judgement. Obviously their lordships are exercising their fundamental right of expression.

Media’s influence is growing day by day. Its business model too has changed beyond recognition. Perhaps not all of it is positive. Like it or not, the belligerent and raucous paparazzi media is here to stay.

Prof N Natarajan

About padmum

You could call me Dame Quixote! I tilt at windmills. I have an opinion on most matters. What I don't have, my husband Raju has in plenty. Writer and story teller, columnist and contributer of articles, blogs, poems, travelogues and essays to Chennai newspapers, national magazines and websites, I review and edit books for publishers and have specialized as a Culinary Editor and contributed content, edited and collaborated on Cookbooks. My other major interest used to be acting on Tamil and English stage, Indian cinema and TV. I am a wordsmith, a voracious reader, crossword buff and write about India's heritage, culture and traditions. I am interested in Vedanta nowadays. I am now an Armchair traveller/opinionator/busybody!
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  1. V.T.Panchapagesan says:

    Constitution proclaims loudly as we also raise our heads high as we have formulated a commendable job through our stalwarts…a new system emphasizing four ideals:
    Equality, Fraternity , Justice and Liberty with secular in action… where are we now?
    Nothing but an eyewash fooling us over a period. There are people who are sincere without bias in the welfare of the country who are rather hesitant voicing their views.. Time has come such people have to come to the forefront spreading news relevant making people to understand the real scenario ..🙏


    • padmum says:

      Thank you. The promised new system never happened. The same politicians, bureaucrats and defence system continued. Firm dynastic culture, sycophancy, and corruption are the only addition. The democratic system of Athens required every citizen to participate in Parliament on an allotted day in the month and contribute to the welfare of the state. This is not possible now. Unfortunately in every democratic country money play is at work. The majority of citizens have to work very hard to survive while those with power and influence have captured the parliaments and every democratic institution.. The system works for them. The 4 pillars of the system are money power, media power, political power and control over judicial system. It is a divine miracle that India has come even this far. That should give us hope. When the time is ripe, things will go in the right direction. Who would have forecast that a tea seller would head a government and bring in fresh ideas? Who would have imagined that an evil virus will teach the whole world a lesson and open our eyes to the exploitation of the migrants in India? Till now we believed that it is the air-conditioned gentry who have built our country. I am happy that you and I refusing to give up even in our sunset years.
      N. Natarajan


  2. rummuser says:

    Yes, historically we have come a long way from the day of the wire services but, news today is more opinion than just fair reporting of events. That gets my goat up and that is what I have written in my post on the same subject.


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