Sir Mark Tully, the former Bureau Chief of BBC New Delhi who worked with the BBC for 30 years before resigning in 1994, talks to the Indian Express about the changing face of journalism globally and in India.
How has journalism changed over the years?
It has changed enormously, the ways in which we operated when I was an active journalist is radically different from how things work now. When I was working for the BBC, we had to engage with the world in a deeper sense. We had to be everywhere in person. we had to go to libraries to conduct research, meet people instead of just calling them or communicating using any other technology and be there to witness incidents. All of this required tremendous efforts, but was also quite a rewarding way of doing our work. Now you have all these mediums which allow you to gather news from a distance, Skype, and WhatsApp and other social media. Journalism is now much more fast paced and urgent.
Is this change for the good?
Well, it allows for news to reach everywhere quicker and of course it allows for better quality of broadcast and so on. For example, we had to struggle to get news or audio recordings across India to Britain in good quality, but that is not an issue anymore, with the coming of satellites and more sophisticated technology. However, technology has also reduced the time a journalist has to engage with an issue in depth. There is so much to do in such little time, and so many sources of news. You get urgent updates and you have to follow them and move on to the next without truly understanding the news yourself. That is what happened during the Mumbai attacks, most journalists had to react fast without thinking, and often they botched up the whole portrayal of the attack. So there are many setbacks to the advent of technology and digital media.
How has the face of journalism changed in India over the years?
Well, I hear now from many prominent journalists that there is a pervading atmosphere of fear amongst them. It is not outright censorship like what was imposed during the emergency. I am clarifying this because such parallels are constantly being made, between the emergency and the current political situation. I was there during the emergency and that was outright censorship, where you were put in jail for speaking up against the government. So this is not like that at all. This is more like a pressure felt by journalists that have made them resort to self censorship, instead of waiting for the government to take action.
Is this atmosphere of fear potentially more damaging for press freedom then explicit censorship?
Well it can become so, if we don’t react urgently to these small acts of censorship and pressure. So far, there has been no substantial reaction to this because there has been no explicit form of censorship, but a reaction is necessary in order to curtail this trend. There have been so many worrisome incidents. Journalists have told me that public advertisements have been taken away at the last moment, or other incidents of pressure from the government have surfaced. Take for example what happened with Prannoy Roy and his wife, whose house was raided and who was stopped at the airport by security officials. There have been clear cases of targeting voices critical of the government. So I can see how this can pose to be a potential danger, but again, I believe India is far from being overtly censored by its government.
What can India learn from other models of journalism?
I think the biggest lesson to learn is the way in which in some countries in the west like the US and the UK, papers and news channels are ideologically inclined and explicitly so. So you know what to expect from a particular news outlet, you will be cognizant of the bias each newspaper or news channel has. Here newspapers are not explicitly ideologically inclined, rather they often operate out of a sense of fear when they align themselves with pro-government ideology. When newspapers operate out of fear rather than out of allegiance to a political ideology, it is much more disconcerting situation for press freedom. So hopefully that is a change that can be brought about in the future in India. Otherwise the country’s media treads a dangerous path.