For P Sainath, the founding editor of People’s Archive of Rural India, journalism is a calling. But, on Monday, he spoke on the rapid corporatisation of media during an interactive session at the Chandigarh Press Club, Sector 27.
The acclaimed rural journalist and author of Everybody Loves A Good Drought was speaking on the topic, Media and the Prevailing Challenges.
Sainath said journalism has been reduced to being a byproduct of public relations and conglomerates. “There’s an incestuous relationship between PR, media and corporations. They’re all in bed together. There is a huge overlap between public relations, industry and the media,” he said.
Giving the example of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the greatest environmental disasters in recent times, he said a New York Times reporter was shocked to find that the press conference was mostly attended by public relations officers (PROs), who came there to take lessons as BP had hired the best PR team to handle the press.
Talking about the reportage on deprived sections, Sainath said 69 per cent of the population got less than 1 per cent space in the media. “Media owners ask how much revenue comes from covering 69 per cent of this population and thus, we have the disconnect between mass media and mass reality,” he said.
Speaking about the think tank phenomenon, Sainath stated that those working for them were not journalists or columnists, but plugging the corporate foundation. Corporatisation did not only affect news coverage, but also governed hierarchies and functioning within a newsroom. “You come into journalism to connect with society. Most editors I have worked with came in with idealism and are now trying to beat it out of you.”
‘Utilise the internet, don’t romanticise it’
Sainath further said that the internet guaranteed a voice, but did not guarantee that everyone listened to it. Digitalisation also gave way to some of the “nastiest monopolies” such as Apple, Microsoft and Google, among others, who stole data. “I am not saying you can’t use the internet for good things; I do, too. But utilise the internet, don’t romanticise it,” adding, “However, one of the things that can happen are little online cooperatives as IT is a great sector for the same.”
Giving the example of People’s Archive, the journalist said, “We should find ways to make journalism subscription-based and input-based to create spaces that can be used. This could be done through individual donations and free labour.”
Sainath further stated that when he started as a journalist in the 1980s, there was something called “job satisfaction”, but then contracts came in and destroyed unions. Talking about ways to shake off the corporate culture that had seeped into journalism, he said delinking newspapers from corporations along with strengthening public broadcasters could show the way. Also, preventing cross ownership and supporting small journals could be a solution.
“Journalism, for me, still remains, one profession that draws people on the basis of ideals; idealism is always good as opposed to fake optimism or cynical pessimism,” he concluded.