Second, in the context of ownership Mr Bhushan talks about owner-editors and how they have affected regulation in India versus other countries. One of the big things the dual role of owner-editors does is stymie the whole idea of self-regulation. Most owners, rightly, do not want any governmental intervention in regulation. But the result is a toothless body like the Press Council of India or the News Broadcasters’ Association which nobody takes seriously. “In both the USA and UK self-regulation is moored in parliamentary guarantee with bipartisan support. So while regulators do their job for the entire spectrum of media platforms, they are only responsible to their respective regulators, i.e. the Congress and the Parliament. Even BBC, one of the greatest media institutions, is subject to Ofcom, UK’s regulatory authority while FCC (Federal Communications Commission) oversees a range of media platforms other than print media in the USA,” he says.
Private broadcasting came to India in 1991 because we had an archaic Indian Telegraph Act of 1885 defining broadcasting. Since then, except for The Cable television (Networks) Regulation Act of 1995, there has been little by way of an overarching look, committee or even discussions around how to put it all together. The Cable Act itself was a reaction to the Supreme Court’s landmark “Airwaves are public property” judgement earlier in 1995. This reporter has for long argued for an “independent of the government” regulator that harnesses the power of the media business, to generate taxes, jobs and ensure plurality and diversity a la FCC or Ofcom. In Mr Bhushan I find a kindred soul. He is categorical that he doesn’t advocate regulation shaped by government but one that is modelled on the lines of Ofcom, which has both regulatory and licensing powers. As an aside his quick analysis on the evolution of the FCC and Ofcom were great reading.
The third reason and the central point of Mr Bhushan’s book is the complete sidelining of the reporter. Any half-decent journalist can see that over the years TV journalism is about some star anchor hogging the time and the big stories. As Mr Bhushan says in the preface, “This book is born out of my resentment over the television news discourse that has consigned reporters to invisibility. Over the last two decades, satellite television has firmly ensconced news anchors at the centre of the industry….. This invisibalisation of reporters is not ‘natural’ and far removed from the global news television template,” he writes. And he talks, in great detail, on how this happened at NDTV with star anchor Barkha Dutt taking over all the big stories and airtime. Or through the rise of Times Network’s brand of opinionated, factitious coverage that Arnab Goswami carried over to Republic TV. Mr Bhushan calls it outrage journalism. He debates a policy option for solving this so that news becomes more representative of all sections of society.
For anyone interested or worried about Indian news television and the harm it is causing to the quality of discourse and therefore to the health of our democracy, this is a must-read.
The Indian Newsroom:
Studios, Stars, and the
Unmaking of Reporters
Westland Publications, 312 pages, Rs 460