Decline of the media unrelated to fear factor: Founder CEO, RSTV

People no longer believe what they read, see or hear in the media is the truth, says the first CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Rajya Sabha TV Gurdeep Singh Sappal in an interview to National Herald

NH Photo by Pramod Pushkarna 
NH Photo by Pramod Pushkarna

Uttam Sengupta and Bhasha Singh

Gurdeep Singh Sappal, who quit the Rajya Sabha TV in August last year after seven years at the helm blames the Indian media for ceding ground and praises the RSS for its long and hard work in cultivating the media and nurturing and motivating a section of the media in this first part of the interview. Excerpts:

Is fear of the Modi Government responsible for the pro-establishment tilt of the media?

It would be wrong to overplay the fear factor. If we only talk of fear, we will miss the larger picture. It must be acknowledged that the RSS has worked very long and very hard to indoctrinate people. The RSS has been cultivating the media since the Emergency which gave it legitimacy. Since then it has been training people and placing them in the media. Those the RSS introduced during and after the Emergency today occupy the top positions in the media. They believe in the RSS and are motivated. They are not working out of fear.

The political opposition appears to be handicapped because of a caucus in the media, which is rabidly pro-Government…

So, are opposition parties waiting to break the caucus after they come to power? Strangely, all political parties are sufferers as they have been blacked out by the media. But still no political party raises the issue; no political party holds a seminar; no party tries to resist it.

You are saying threat to the media is more than threat to the Government…

There is a threat to the media because its credibility is gone. Nobody says any longer that what newspapers publish or what is shown by TV is the truth. Media is also threatened because never before have the owners been so overwhelmingly in control of the content. It was increasing even during the time of the UPA but now it is visible like never before. Media also face a threat because an overwhelming majority of the workforce and journalists have been drawn in the last 15-20 years from journalism institutes. These people are technically competent but have neither any exposure nor any political sensitivity. A majority in the media, I suspect, do not know what it means to take a stand. But then journalism can never be divorced from ideology and the RSS, to its credit, has nurtured an army of journalists who are motivated by its ideology.

Is fear of the Modi Government responsible for the pro-establishment tilt of the media?

It would be wrong to overplay the fear factor. If we only talk of fear, we will miss the larger picture. It must be acknowledged that the RSS has worked very long and very hard to indoctrinate people. The RSS has been cultivating the media since the Emergency which gave it legitimacy. Since then it has been training people and placing them in the media. Those the RSS introduced during and after the Emergency today occupy the top positions in the media. They believe in the RSS and are motivated. They are not working out of fear.

The political opposition appears to be handicapped because of a caucus in the media, which is rabidly pro-Government…

So, are opposition parties waiting to break the caucus after they come to power? Strangely, all political parties are sufferers as they have been blacked out by the media. But still no political party raises the issue; no political party holds a seminar; no party tries to resist it.

You are saying threat to the media is more than threat to the Government…

There is a threat to the media because its credibility is gone. Nobody says any longer that what newspapers publish or what is shown by TV is the truth. Media is also threatened because never before have the owners been so overwhelmingly in control of the content. It was increasing even during the time of the UPA but now it is visible like never before. Media also face a threat because an overwhelming majority of the workforce and journalists have been drawn in the last 15-20 years from journalism institutes. These people are technically competent but have neither any exposure nor any political sensitivity. A majority in the media, I suspect, do not know what it means to take a stand. But then journalism can never be divorced from ideology and the RSS, to its credit, has nurtured an army of journalists who are motivated by its ideology.

Why is it so?

It fits the long-term vision of the RSS and the BJP. They want to weaken the Parliamentary system and show that it is not effective. It is defective and therefore must be changed. The opposition, I feel, is falling into a trap and copying the same disruptive technique that was adopted by the BJP. Instead, the Opposition should have strengthened Parliament.

Do you see concentration of ownership of the media as a threat?

Nobody raises the issue of cross-holding in media or about media monopoly. The UPA lost the opportunity. I know a presentation was given at the level of the I & B ministry. But they possibly developed cold feet. Media monopoly and crossholdings in media are not good for democracy. But the present government is not interested in ending it. It favours monopoly within the media because more the concentration, the easier it would be for it to control the media, it feels. In the United Kingdom they have done it through Parliament and through Parliamentary committees. We too have strong committee system but this is not part of the agenda of any political party.

What has been the role of regulators?

When organisations, the management, owners, editors and even politicians are ever ready to change and adjust, how can regulators work? Press Council of India, Editors’ Guild, Broadcasters’ Association etc. are powerful organisations but they seem helpless. When the Government is democratic, we seek more democratic rights. When the Government is autocratic, we sit back quietly and retreat into our shell.

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