In January this year I gave a guest lecture at a Webinar ‘Mass Media as a Career’ organized by POLIENZ (The Political Science Society) and IQAC of Deshbandhu College, Delhi University. You can watch the full recording of the webinar here. Below are some of the key points I made in the lecture. (Note, I am no longer with National Herald but at the time of this event I was.)

There is NO career in media for true journalists

The first thing to note about a career guidance in mass media is that if you are an honest upright journalist, you have no career in today’s India where press freedom has hit one of the lowest in entire history. Where journalists lose their job, and end up in jail or worse dead for speaking truth to power. Media has become a vehicle of carrying the post-truth narratives of base reactionary instincts of hate, bigotry, violence, otherization of the Muslims in the name of Hindu nationalism. Media is creating an atmosphere where it is ok to give hate speeches, bulldoze Muslim homes.  

Media and journalists cannot be anything but liberals, right wing media is an anomaly

As an institution media or journalists cannot be anything but liberals. Right wing media, peddling Hindu nationalism, doing Govt’s bidding, finding some or the other excuse to defend the right-wing BJP government and targeting the opposition or Muslim baiting, spreading anti-Muslim narratives are all anomalies. Media as an institution was born out of Enlightenment, Public Sphere and Liberalism. Its very genesis is in being against whoever or whatever is in power. Media should never be on the same side as the government but in India we have seen that those TV anchors and channels which was on the opposite side of the government, they used to grill the government on various issues like corruption and petrol diesel prices throughout 2012-2013 2014 did not change their side after the 2014 elections. Party in the government changed and they kept sitting on the side of the party which was now in power. They did not come on the other side of the table. The same TV anchors who used to shout at the government now shout at the opposition which means they were never real journalists questioning power. They were BJP allies questioning Congress.

Journalists role is to question authority, not just take dictations

As a journalist your role is to report the events, but reporting also includes questioning. It is not just taking dictations and typing out. Journalist’s role is to keep an eye on those in power, grill the government, be cynical, do not blindly trust the government ask for proof of government propaganda, dig for govt lies, not the opposition lies, challenge hegemonic narratives.

Follow up on sensational stories and find empowering headlines

A journalist’s role is to challenge the imagery that those in power trying to constantly reinforce. Check its veracity. For example, every day in the news there are terrifying headlines that so and so is arrested and jailed for saying something on Twitter or Facebook. Such headlines create the chilling effect that if I express dissenting opinions and use of freedom of speech I would be arrested. Journalist’s job is to challenge this fear created by these headlines by following up on them and find out if those cases could stand in court, was the prosecution able to prove their case, did the citizen get bail, try to find headlines that would give the message that government may come after you but you have a fighting chance.

Q and A Session:

What is the role of newspapers in developing society?

From early times newspapers have been playing the role of a guardian of the society. Ordinary people need not always be aware of everything in the world, not everybody is enlightened. But newspaper or media plays that role about which Kant spoke, of putting the reason and rationality in the public sphere which is supposed to enlighten others from their self-imposed immaturity.

Is the rise of fake news, propaganda and authoritarianism unique to India?

The answer is no, they are not unique to India. Rise of right wing hate and bigotry, fake news, propaganda is global and they all have common elements. Ethno-nationalism, obsession with religion, anti-immigrants hate, anti-Muslim hate, anti-social welfare policies for the weak and marginalized such as reservations and so on.