Monday, October 04, 2004

When journalism could be like "canned processed food"

A recent interview with P Sainath, author of the well-received book Everybody Loves A Good Drought. He spoke on the growing gap between the media and reality and his current project on freedom fighters:

You have always maintained that there is a growing disconnect between mass media and mass reality. But you mentioned yesterday that reality will eventually put the mainstream media back on track?

I hope that is achieved because reality is very stubborn. And when that happens the mainstream media will suffer a loss of credibility. Because people will realise that reality is not exactly what they have been informed. Look at the tech stocks… the media played it up and several middle class investors put in their savings and then they went bust. There are people in my colony who hate the media because of that.

But do you think that the coming of foreign direct investment in the media will change things for good or for worse?

The way it seems now, it will be for worse. With people like Murdoch, we will see a monopoly of a kind never experienced before. There will be total control. Look at the average small town American newspaper. If you just pick up the edits, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. There is zero individual character. In India we still have individualism. I can identify a piece written by different writers like Praful Bidwai, Vir Sanghvi, Tavleen Singh. With FDI it is going to be like canned processed food.

But where does a professional draw a line between journalism and activism?

My answer to that is that there are two kinds of journalism. One that is active journalism that picks up societal issues and the other is passive journalism that is like a stenographer’s job. I am an active journalist. It’s funny when you praise Anil Ambani like a corporate pimp, you are called a professional. But when you take up the society’s problems, you are labelled an activist.

You are currently working on a project on the living freedom fighters in the country. How is that coming up?

It is complex because I am producing it in several media and it requires a lot of money. I am not funding it with the help of corporate funds but newspaper funds. But it has also been simply a very moving experience. The sheer idealism of these 80 or 90 year olds… they don’t see that they have done anything great. They are just quite happy to have done what they did.


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