Sucheta Dalal :The political-media cabal: The fourth estate?
Sucheta Dalal

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The political-media cabal: The fourth estate?  

August 17, 2011

Our media is a paper tiger

Sucheta Dalal

“The News of the World was in the business of holding others to account. It failed when it came to itself. We are sorry for the serious wrongdoing that occurred. We are deeply sorry for the hurt suffered by the individuals affected. We regret not acting faster to sort things out. I realise that simply apologising is not enough. Our business was founded on the idea that a free and open press should be a positive force in society. We need to live up to this. In the coming days, as we take further concrete steps to resolve these issues and make amends for the damage they have caused, you will hear more from us.” With this signed statement, Rupert Murdoch abruptly pulled the plug on the News of the World. The scandal that roils his media empire today has plenty of parallels in India. We have our own tight cabal of politics-media-business-government that controls all institutions of profit, influence and power. It decides who gets to share the spoils and who is cut down to size, from time to time. Powerful politicians formed the nucleus of these groups—until public anger and court action in connection with the spate of corruption scandals upset the balance.

In the UK, public anger at reports of phone hacking and bribery are directed at the media. James Murdoch said that the News of the World often hired private detectives to help their investigation. In India, media barons will never dip into their own wallets to fund news; they are happy recipients of leaked tapes, planted documents and video recordings. Most sting operations by the media are done by smaller publishing houses and their funding and functioning remains hazy. The only variable in these closed networks are businessmen who don’t need to have fixed loyalties, because it is their bucks that buy information and also control people’s perception by paying the media.

In many ways, India currently has an advantage. Some path-breaking decisions by an activist judiciary has pumped much-needed adrenalin into civil society, and called to account the police as well as investigation and enforcement agencies, and empowered bodies like the Lok Ayukta or the Comptroller and Auditor General of India. It remains to be seen if this leads to a lasting change.

-- Sucheta Dalal