Dear Mr Sardesai,
Let me begin with a disclaimer. I’m a 27-year-old journalist. I lack your experience, your wisdom and, therefore, your insight.
That’s exactly why I find your recent blog on the Indian media’s credibility crisis surprising. And absurd. Fortunately, it illuminates what I believe is wrong with the way you’re thinking about the state of journalism in India today.
That mindset, I suspect, isn’t limited to you. So, when I say “you” or “your”, I’m not necessarily pointing a finger at you. I am pointing a finger at the Indian media in its entirety. Including myself.
1 Get Over Politicians: You begin your blog by declaring that “(T)his is open season against the Indian media.” Says who, I wonder? India’s politicians and political parties, you explain, complete with examples cutting across party lines.
But, Mr Sardesai, here’s the problem: Politicians and political parties aren’t your primary audience. You aren’t supposed to be concerned about what they say about the press, the ingenious threats they issue, or the less ingenious accusations they level.
The question shouldn’t be how do Rajdeep Sardesai and CNN-IBN fare in the eyes of “Modi bhakts, Congress chamchas and AAP cheerleaders?” It should be: What do your viewers think of you? What do they expect from your channel (and website, but more about that later) and your journalists?
How often do you ask these questions, if at all?
The fact is the Indian media acts like it’s beholden to India’s politicians. Nowhere is it more evident than on your TV news shows which are, as you admit, the result of eight people brought together “to scream at each other in a studio.” Rarely are politicians and ministers pressed hard. Except by that one man who questions on behalf of the entire nation.
More often than not, you handle politicians with kid gloves. More often than not, there are no substantial follow-up questions. More often than not, you don’t contradict their verbose nonsense with basic facts that any half-decent beat reporter should know.
It’s gotten to a point where you rarely expect them to give you straight answers (not including Kejriwal). It works this way because you need the star spokesperson, the eloquent minister or powerful politician on your channel at short notice.
Never mind the viewer who wants news. Not views.
2 Credibility? What credibility?: Mr Sardesai, let’s be honest about this: The Indian media didn’t lose its credibility in the run up to the 2014 elections. It lost it well before that.
Remember the Radia tapes? Need I remind you how many of the journalists whose names appeared in those tapes continue to work in — and, in some cases, lead — newsrooms in India?
Remember the unexplained phenomenon called “Paid News”? And how the Press Council of India buried Paranjoy Guha Thakurta’s report that it had itself commissioned?
The loss of your “moral compass”, as you put it, and your “credibility” didn’t happen overnight. Perhaps you feel the prick only now as political parties lash out at you, with the help of their own little social media armies.
You are speaking up today because of their alleged “abuse and intimidation”. But when did you last check if your viewers were weary of the pointless talking heads in your studios, the incessantly competitive “breaking news”, or the mediocrity of your journalism?
Instead, you fret about polarization in the press when such divisions within the media are common in developed democracies. Does anyone really expect unbiased reporting from Fox News in the United States? Hasn’t the UK’s The Daily Telegraph been described as the ‘Torygraph’ for a reason?
The real problem, as you accurately identify, is sensationalism and “half-truths”. But you yourself fail to mention Reliance Industries’ interest in TV-18.
Credibility, did you say?
3 This Little Thing Called Innovation: Mr Sardesai, with all due respect, let me introduce you to something that much of the Indian press has forgotten in recent years: Innovation.
True, times have been tough, balance sheets have been buffeted by the slowdown and heads have rolled. But that’s no excuse. Innovation doesn’t need a few hundred crores. All it needs the appetite. And some young blood.
Unfortunately, the Indian media has scant room for either. For you, it implies cramming more talking heads onto a television screen and occasionally pulling some content off social media.
Where are the engagement tools? Where is the data mining and analysis? Where are the responsive websites? Why isn’t the Internet being integrated into India’s newsrooms, both TV and print? Why are we lagging behind when media markets are rapidly transforming elsewhere?
Because no one has invested in building a talent pool. And because no one seems to be worried about the actual crisis that Indian journalism faces: the inevitable disruption that the Internet will produce in newsrooms.
Meanwhile, let’s talk about politicians. And little else.
Devjyot Ghoshal is a professional deadline beater and a multimedia journalist. Currently, he spends time attending lectures at the Columbia Journalism School. He argues with random people @devjyotghoshal