Two things have died in the media - outrage and compassion

P. Sainath

We are in the middle of the greatest agrarian crisis seen in this country
since the Green Revolution. Millions have left their villages for other
villages, towns and cities in search of jobs which are not there. Eighty
lakh people quit farming between 1991 and 2001.
Did the Indian media do this story? Here are the basic assertions I make in
connection with the media and the agrarian crisis. One, the fundamental
feature of the media of our times is the growing disconnect between the mass
media and the mass reality. Two, there is a structural shutout of the poor
in the media. Three, there is a corporate hijack of media agendas. Four, of
the so-called four estates of democracy, media is the most exclusive and the
most elitist.

The moral universe of the media has shifted. Two things have died-outrage
and compassion. You have a lot of drawing-room outrage, but not over issues
that moved earlier generations of journalists. The structural shutout of the
poor is evident in the way beats are organised in newspapers. You have
fashion, design and glamour correspondents. In a country with the largest
number of rural poor, you do not have one full-time correspondent on the
beat of rural or urban poverty.

In a country whose unemployment is simply stunning, the labour correspondent
is extinct. 2006 was the worst year of farmer suicides. How many national
media journalists were covering the agrarian crisis in Vidarbha? There were
six. But there were 512 journalists covering the Lakme Fashion Week in

What were the girls displaying at the Fashion Week? Cotton garments. One
hour's flight away from Mumbai, the men and women who grew that cotton were
committing suicide at the rate of six a day. Wasn't that a story? There is
journalism and there is stenography; 80 per cent of journalism you are
reading or viewing today is stenography. Everyone knows there is a crisis of
credit. Thanks to the loan waiver. How many of your newspapers or channels
have told you that the guys who are claiming that they have expanded credit
have closed down 4,750 bank branches in the last 15 years?

The Census and the National Sample Survey narrow down migration to mean
people leaving the villages for the city. Since 1990s, migrations are more
complex. There is rural-to-rural, rural-to-metro migration,
rural-to-semi-urban, urban-to-urban and finally urban-to-rural migration.
Yes, urban-to-rural migration is there because wages have collapsed in the
countryside and small businesses are moving there to utilise cheap labour.

In Gondia, Maharashtra, every morning hundreds of urban women journey into
rural Vidarbha for work. There is the economic survey put by the finance
minister in Parliament every Budget session. What has stopped the media from
picking up the story it tells you? Per capita availability of foodgrain has
fallen from 510gm a day in 1991 to 422gm in 2005-a fall of 88gm for one
billion people for 365 days a year! That means your average family is
consuming 100kg less of foodgrain than it consumed a decade ago. Where is
your outrage?

You have a price rise. There is a differential impact of this on different
classes of society. But look at some of the stories that are coming-that in
a middle class family, the son cannot take cricket coaching because of the
price rise!
Where we should have told stories, we sold products. Where we needed
scepticism, we exercised sycophancy. Where we needed journalism at its best,
we produced stenography at its worst. We continued to cordon the elite and
turn our backs on millions experiencing despair. We turned the great
principle of journalism upside down which was to comfort the afflicted and
afflict the comfortable.


Dr.Parveen Chopra ने कहा…
Yes, whatever you say I agree with that.....quite truly, it is quite unfortunate that lot of emphasis now-a-days is on Page3 Journalism. Development journalism is taking a back seat !!..........But now the big question before all of us----so-called enlightened souls -- is that who will bell the cat??.....lot of hopes are pinned on right- thinking intelligentia like yourself.

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