When we look into the performance of English dailies during the 2002-2003 period, Indian Express was irrefutably in the forefront in the realm of news. At that time, Gujarat Pogrom and related stories filled most of the pages of the Indian Express. Towards the end of February 2002, Times of India as well performed well in these respects. In those days Indian Express and The Times of India were engaged in a qualitative competition in exposing the gruesome brutalities of the pogrom in Gujarat.
When other English dailies, especially The Hindu, put aside the news of the Gujarat pogrom from the first page, I vividly remember an exclusive news item that appeared in the Indian Express. The crux of the news was that police in Gujarat shot around 50 persons belonging to the minority community at point blank. In the following days, The Times of India (especially it’s Ahmedabad edition) published shocking follow ups of this news disclosing that injured persons who were taken to hospitals in ambulances were attacked and killed on the midway.
Contrary to the popular perception, these two dailies did not overlook such news or put life style news on the first page instead. Indian Express was indeed brave enough to expose the hypocrisy of the BJP within days of its coming to the helm of power, when BJP took over the stinging baggage of corruption that Congress has been carrying for a long time. …… I am alluding to these facts only to show that if you want to belatedly analyse the intensity and graveness of the Hindutva politics that the Sangh Parivar propound, your choice is obviously The Hindu.
But if you want to know the news on time, your newspaper is the Indian Express or The Times of India. Put another way, to know the news on time, we need to read The Indian Express or The Times of India; and The Hindu for belated ‘analytical pleasure’ ’’
In a recently published book titled News Deskile Kaaviyum Chuvappum, Kamalram Sajeev, a distinguished Malayalam journalist and writer, makes these rear view mirror observations about the way of reporting of English dailies a decade back. This book brings together 10 pungent essays and 6 insightful interviews written over a span of a decade on the various aspects of Indian media in general and the challenges it face from within and outside in particular.
Among many other things, the author’s focus is on the communalisation and the commercialisation of the media, the dismal drain of basic ethics and professional justice from the media people, discussion of non-issues by putting into to the backburner the real issues, near absence of Dalits in the media and so on.
Kamalram Sajeev effected a paradigm shift in weekly journalism in Malayalam by bringing in hidden and suppressed voices of Dalits, tribals, women, besides highlighting environmental and gender issues. Most of the Malayalam weeklies sooner or later were forced to follow this new sensibility ushered in by the Madhyamam weekly when he was in charge of the same.
In another article, the title of which is the title of the book itself, the author makes a piercing critique of the Malayalam media which has long been focussed on the internal factional wrangling within the CPI (M), centered around Pinarayi Vijayan and V S Achuthanandan.
Kamalram’s criticism is that when India is fast slipping into the grip of the Hindutva forces spearheaded by the so called Narendra Modi wave, which is the gravest present threat to our plural secular society, the predominant focus of the Malayalam Media remains the trivial aspects of Pinarayi-Achuthanandan factional quarrel. Moreover, even after the revelations of the sordid acts perpetrated by the Sangh Parivar in Gujarat, Malayalam dailies unabashedly showered praise on Narendra Modi and his inflated developmental achievements when he came to power for a third time in Gujarat.
The book carries half a dozen well crafted interviews with media personalities such as Sasikumar, B R P Bhaskar, Ashish Khetan, E P Unni etc. The sole politician interviewed is Pinarayi Vijayan. A long interview with Ashish Khetan, who played a pivotal role in exposing the heinous crimes of Sangh Parivar in Gujarat while he was working at Tehelka, is an exemplary model which shows how an interview should be conducted and crafted.
Equally enriching experience is the interview with Sasikumar that unravels the contemporary scenario of Indian journalism. Kamalram retains a direct and elegant style of writing throughout. The author’s sheer range of grasp about the Indian vernacular as well as English dailies, lucid reasoning on complicated themes, and the insights offered into the complexities underlying the workings of the contemporary media call for intense and focussed attention.
In view of the rich insights offered by the book, one hopes that it will encourage other journalists and scholars to use it to make more detailed studies on related subjects. This is a book to be read, reread and referred to by working journalists, aspiring journalists and of course, regular readers of the newspapers.
It is a paradox that though Kerala is a densely media concentrated state in India, serious works on media studies are very few, if not nil in the State. This book is a real contribution in that direction.
- A M Shinas (Assistant Professor of History, Government Arts and Science College, Kozhikode)