Media And Vested Interests

Irrelevance, thy Name is Indian Elite!

Sankara Narayanan

Media coverage of a sin gle individual's murder reflects the irresponsible and unethical reporting behavior of Indian TV news channels. It consumed one-third of the prime time coverage on six TV news channels, according to a study. 6 TV channels, including 2 English news channels, featured 113 stories and 61 special programmes on the murder in a fortnight, according to the study by CMS Media Lab.

CMS Media Lab analysed coverage of six national TV channels (Aaj Tak, ABP News, Zee News, DO News, CNN IBN and Times Now) for a fortnight from Aug 25 to Sep 8. The study said DD News gave the least time to the case by allotting only 36 minutes during the entire period of the study. News channels gave low priority to important issues like farm suicides, floods and drought in different states during the period.

Times Now topped the coverage by devoting 948 minutes, followed by CNN IBN at 424 minutes. Among Hindi News channels, Aaj Tak led the coverage by giving 341 minutes, closely followed by ABP News and Zee News with 268 minutes & 263 minutes.

Needless to say this is the case of the alleged murder of Sheena Bora by her mother Indrani Mukherji; a matter connected hardly to half a dozen persons. Giving some much needed rest to the departed soul of Sunanda Pushkar, the character assassination of Indrani has reached the peak of cruelty and perversion. If she had killed her daughter, as is alleged, is she the first mother to do it? Nor Indrani is the first lady to have many men in her life. After all this the land of Kunti and Draupadi, stupid!

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On Aug 24 2015, the biggest of national disasters hit India in the form of Sensex plunging 1624 points. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley addressed the media at least four times during the day to allay any fears arising from the crash of the stock markets. The shell-shocked and grief-stricken nation was informed by evening that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was personally keeping a watch on the volatile situation. With the rupee falling around 4.5 percent in the last fortnight, RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan assured the markets that the RBI will not hesitate in using its forex reserves—it now amounts to over $354 billion—to contain volatility in the rupee.

Some called it heartbreak, others termed it as mayhem. As the Sensex plunged 1,624 points, panic spread. Some of the headlines in the media on that Black Day : 1. Sensex crashes 1,624 points: The biggest ever market fall explained in seven graphics. 2. Sensex plays Chinese checkers, knocks off 1600 points. 3. Rs 7 lakh crore of investor wealth gone in a day. 4. In a stock market bloodbath, benchmark Sensex on Monday sunk 1,624.51 points. 5. Black Monday: Sensex crashes 1,624 points; wipes out Rs 7 lakh cr from investors' wealth.

Such reactions from the Western media, governments and the general public are quite genuine because nearly the entire population invests in stock markets. But only one percent of India's population invests in stock markets. And look at the shock that the media - both print and electronic -were expressing. Look at the way the mandarins in the Finance Ministry got into a huddle to find ways to tide over the crisis, and repeatedly assure the country that all is well.

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Men and women join the forces as jawans or officers for a variety of reasons; foremost is the security of a job. It is not a job for the entire working life. 85 percent of the personnel retire by the age of 38 years and another 10 percent retire by the age of 46 years. They have to work for a living for many more years, but there is no guarantee of a post-retirement job. The promise of an honourable pension is an important factor in fresh recruitment. Hence the clamour for a better pension.

OROP basically implies payment of uniform pension to personnel retiring in the same rank with the same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement. Irate ex-servicemen have been returning their medals and holding rallies over the last five-six years to protest against the non- implementation of OROP.

In a last-ditch gambit to woo the defence community of 14 lakh serving and over 25 lakh retired military personnel, the UPA government had agreed to the long-demanded, much-promised but never-implemented OROP in the run-up to 2014 general elections. The defence community, after all, swells into a sizeable and vocal vote; bank of close to two crore people if family members are also taken into account.

There was again scepticism whether it was full OROP or just the eyewash of modified parity yet again. Moreover, Rs 500 crore transferred to defence ministry seemed paltry. But MoD contended the contours of OROP and its implementation would be worked out in the coming weeks. "The Rs 500 crore is just a provisional figure to show the government's intent," said an official. Nothing much came out till UPA forced out of power.

BJP govt has also been dithering to settle the issue. The ex-servicemen to press for OROP have been agitating for the past three months. The media, the public and politicians sympathised with them. Under duress, defence minister Manohar Parrikar made the announcement on OROP in the first week of Sep 2015. The veterans were not satisfied with the announcement on variety of reasons and decided to continue with the agitation. Major General Satbir Singh (retd), who has been spearheading the agitation, told the media, "It is the misfortune of the country that the soldiers are not being respected. The soldier takes bullets for the nation, and dies unsung. The widow of a jawan gets Rs 3,500. How can she support her family with that?"

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The unprecedented wave of sympathy for Arab refugees, extending to as far as Australia, has forced the governments to bend. The way mainline newspapers in Europe played up the anger of the people is amazing. Ordinary people in Germany lined up to distribute household items to the incoming refugees in such a large number that the police had to request them to stop. The Independent in London for instance had on the front page pictures of common people welcoming refugees and in the middle box it asked PM David Cameroon if he is listening to these voices. A day later, UK opened up for the refugees. Perhaps it was because of such a massive outpouring of sympathy that Finland's Prime Minister even went to the extent of saying that he will share his house with the refugees. A single photograph of an unknown refugee child's body lying washed off the shore created a sympathy Tsunami among the Indian social media. People poured their heart out for that unfortunate child.

In the much hyped Indrani case, the people involved are hardly half a dozen. Share market is dealt by about 10 million people. OROP affects roughly 14 lakh serving and over 25 lakh retired personnel directly and close to two crore people if family members are also taken into account.

The state, media and pundits were pouring their heart out for the sensex crash which involved just one % of the population. Soldiers are defending the country's borders. It is the responsibility of the slate to take care of them and their families numbering about two crore. The widow of a jawan gets Rs 3,500. How can she support her family with that? Absolutely a legitimate question. It is fully justified when one lights candles to pay homage to those soldiers who sacrificed their life to defend India’s frontiers. The number of refugees flocking to EU nations is estimated to be four lakhs. The photograph of one dead child rattled people's conscience and tears rolled down in social media.

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Agriculture has been in ICU since 1995. Nearly 4 lakh farmers killed themselves from mid-1990 to date. There are some families where multiple suicides were committed. It is an established fact that every 31 minute a farmer commits suicide due to crop failure and debt burden. On a single day, two days ago, Telangana's 13 farmers committed suicide. No finance minister or prime minister for almost a decade found it necessary to visit the victims' families. After Modi came to power, the farm suicide picked up further momentum in various states. How many times the FM or PM or agriculture minister visited the farmers in distress?

None called it a mayhem or bloodbalh or heart break or black day. No RBI Governor assuaged the distressed farming community that the RBI will not hesitate in using its forex reserves to contain the death of dance in farm fields. No ordinance was issued to tackle this epidemic on war footing. No special parliament session or joint sitting of Lok Sabha & Rajya Sabha to discuss the farm crisis was thought about. It is a matter of shame that the agriculture minister said that farm suicides were due to love failure.

Stock market and Indrani case have zero relevance to a person on the street. OROP is affecting about two crore people. 4 lakh refugees are on move towards EU. But 4 lakh farmers killed themselves. Farm crisis affects about 60 cr people who feed 120 cr people. Without food soldiers cannot fight. No town or city will move. The sovereignty of India will go haywire. Yet the government and elitist media ignore them.

Modi gave a commitment on OROP during election. After the defence minister's reeent announcement on OROP, one hears encomiums pouring on Modi, though there are discordant voices from the agitating veterans. Modi is touted to have achieved what other PMs (that includes Vajpayee also) could not do in 4 decades.  Wonderful! Congratulations!

But Modi also gave a solemn commitment to the farmers before coming to power. BJP listed it in the election manifesto. The promise was Swaminathan committee recommendation on minimum support price (50% profit) would be implemented if BJP was voted to power. Instead of giving 50% profit, he reduced the MSP by 5% by forcing the state govts to withdraw the bonus payments. Central govt's addl solicitor general had informed the apex court in Feb 2015 that 50% profit to farmers would distort the market. Is Modi not playing with the lives of millions of poor farmers? Should not the guys tom-toming OROP victory, the media and the general public ask Modi what happened to the commitment given to the farmers?

Study after study reveals that the average monthly income of a farm family is around Rs 3000. The war veterans ask how can the widow of a jawan who gets a pension of Rs 3,500 support her family with that. How many people and the media cared to question how a farm family can live with Rs 3,000 pm? Have seen anyone lighting a candle to pay homage to the 4 lakh farmers who killed themselves after feeding the country? A surgeon who operated a former PM's heart gets a Padma award. Has any farmer received a Padma award so far?

Unlike the death of a Syrian refuegee child in Europe, the serial death dance on the farms has failed to hit the collective consciousness of the Indian society. Devinder Sharma, a distinguished food and trade policy analyst says, "if only some of us in the cities had felt outraged at the continuing suicides on the farm, perhaps a sympathy wave among the middle class would have generated. The more the outpouring of sympathy, the more would have been the pressure on the media to focus on the farming tragedy, and thereby a much bigger pressure on the government to act. In our unrelenting quest to quench our thirst of material goods, we have sorrehow moved away from our spiritual values. Let the image of a dying person—whether it is refugee child or a farmer hanging from a tree—shake our collective consciousness". Will anybody listen?

Vol. 48, No. 21, Nov 29 - Dec 5, 2015