What did the media know and when did it know it? - Jawed Naqvi - December 6, 2010

Source : www.dawn.com

That Sukhi Lala owns much of India`s mainstream media is not news. In a predominantly agrarian country the usurious Lala – as depicted in the classic movie Mother India — had to be and indeed was the arch villain of the masses. He bled the peasants with his financial trickery and usurped their small subsistence land holdings. But in independent India he masqueraded as the conscience keeper by starting newspapers thundering with newfound idealism and hiring editors with impeccable credentials.

Old-style editors` fierce independence kept the lid on Sukhi Lala`s galloping ambitions for several years after independence. However, when Indira Gandhi`s police rounded up his ilk under COFEPOSA and other severe laws against tax evasion and other economic crimes, Lala (who goes by different names in other countries, Rupert Murdoch being among them) hit back under the banner of Indian Express. He galvanised an absurdly opportunistic, short-lived political alliance to dethrone her. When Rajiv Gandhi, naively on hindsight, strove to take on the Sukhi Lala frontally – if his “power brokers” speech at the Congress centenary in Mumbai is anything to go by – he was wrong-footed with the Bofors scandal.

The advent of Manmohan Singh as finance minister in 1991 ended the jostling between Sukhi Lala and emerging India`s political barons. The Harshad Mehta financial scam cemented an alliance between the comprador Sukhi Lal and his foreign financial connections. After a token fine and a mild admonition, which did not significantly impact on ties with the main foreign banks that were the real culprits, life continued as normal on the nation`s “development” trajectory.

MPs were bribed and jailed for voting in a trust vote for the government that launched Manmohan Singh as India`s financial whizkid. But that hardly mattered. Sukhi Lala`s newspapers were prepared to judge corruption by a different yardstick now, because a new era was dawning, in which Lala`s newspapers would become the lynchpin of the new economic reforms. That Manmohan Singh had given his domicile as Assam to get into Rajya Sabha (and has avoided fighting for a seat in the people`s chamber, the Lok Sabha) was seen as a small travesty of the truth. The bounty of economic reforms he was delivering could mask minor glitches that would bring down governments elsewhere or lead to the resignation of a minister in Nehru`s days.

Right up until the other day, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was seeking everyone`s help to pass a bill on civil nuclear cooperation, when money was shown in Lok Sabha to have changed hands to fulfil that objective, I can hardly remember anyone as lifting a finger much less raising their voice to point out the corruption quotient in the act.

So when a leading news magazine – India Today — goes to town with a cover story about the $40 billion telecom scam that has forced the resignation of Manmohan Singh`s cabinet minister and it asks the question:

“When did the PM know? Who made the money? Is Raja (the minister) the scapegoat?” it sounds laboured. The real question to pose is when did the media know that the prime minister knew something about the scam, when did the media know that they had to put the prime minister under public scrutiny just as the Supreme Court has finally done by asking the question of him.

If Dr Singh has lost a bit of his Teflon image is it because he is about to be sacrificed to save someone else, perhaps the corporate minders of the government? An accompanying media scam involving some of the country`s best known journalists is a small digression from the main story. The real story is the agenda for continuing loot and plunder of the country`s resources and its people by Sukhi Lala`s new foreign allies.

The story is not that the media has links with Sukhi Lala or that it works on behalf of Sukhi Lala to push the government or the bureaucracy into acts of omission and commission to maximise profits for their pay masters. The media is for the most part owned by Sukhi Lala who has gone corporate. Many of us have been using the description corporate media to describe the state of affairs, the rot within. It is gratifying that the common people, the aam Indian, are now looking disabused of their gullibility towards some of the media icons. But that is not the point.

Essentially what the media needs to tell its readers and viewers is everything to do with its prescriptive corporate agenda. India Today, for example, was created in Indira Gandhi`s emergency as a means to advertise her achievements to the outside world. What we need to know is not that the blood of its editor-in-chief boils, as he says, at the thought of the latest scam, but how seriously the media are compromised and therefore rendered ineffective as the celebrated watchdogs of the Indian people.

There is no point getting irritated with one scam and ignoring the loot or the proposed loot underway elsewhere, say for example in the natural resources whether through illegal and ill-advised mining or by stealing the people`s water and land in the name of development. Does the unabated mass suicides of indebted farmers amount to a bigger scandal and if so how does it link up with the corporate fascism the media indulges?

Just as we need to know the details of the secret pacts signed with the IMF at the start of Dr Singh`s innings, the rush to bail out the Enron deal during a 13-day administration of the Bharatiya Janata Party and countless MOUs signed with foreign collaborators in Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand, their link with the so-called anti-Maoist war taking shape in Chhatisgarh, we need to know the media`s links not just with the corporate world but with communal fascism that the corporate world uses to divide people and distract them from the real source of their loss and dispossession.

If the media is scandalised by the $40 billion telecom scam, should it not have been equally scandalised by the public and vulgar embrace between the Tatas, the Ambanis and Narendra Modi a few years ago, when these CEOs warmly recommended him as a candidate for prime minister? India needs a Wikileaks on the national media. Are we ready to answer the question: what did the media know, when did it know it?


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