Instead of being a “watchdog” of democracy, the mainstream media has become a “lapdog” of the ruling dispensation in India.
The mainstream media is currently functioning as a propaganda machine of the government, more openly for a decade now. It is no longer a voice of the voiceless and a platform for those grieved by the government policies. The online social media platforms that were performing this role of the media came under an attack by the current Indian government. Armies of trolls were erected to snub dissent. The alternate media emerged in the country amidst this desperate attempt of the government in silencing dissenting voices. Not restricting themselves to writings they are reaching out to people in form of images, videos, and podcasts. Through their innovative presentations, these small media houses have been taking the mainstream media and the government to task. They are reviving ethical journalism which was in a state of collapse.
The alternate media platforms like ‘Alt News,’ ‘The Wire,’ ‘Article 14,’ ‘Newsclick,’ ‘The News Minute,’ ‘Cobra Post,’ ‘News Laundry,’ ‘Scroll,’ ‘Boom Live,’ ‘HW News,’ The Quint,’ and ‘Digipub’ are fully involved in the revival of journalism.
According to DhanyaRajendran, the founder of The News Minute, the funding of the media houses plays a very important role in determining the nature of the journalism practiced. Speaking to our team she said, “the reason for the mainstream media not talking against the government can be found in the lobby of advertisements. The financial plans and security of these media houses depend on these advertisements. They fear the financial losses that they may incur by speaking against the government. It is different from the web news portals. For a couple of years now the readers are paying for the news through subscriptions and donations. Thus these portals are not answerable to any private or government advertisers.’’ Rajendran also pointed out that these alternate media houses are actively involved in countering the fake news that is being generated by mainstream media.
It bewilders us to learn the extent to which the mainstream media is contributing to the production of fake news. There is a need for fake news detection portals like Altnews. As Arpita, a journalist at The Quint explains, the mainstream media is busy in concocting lies and painting negative imagery of the dissenters in the country. ‘They are sold out. The responsibility of getting the truth out to people is resting in the hands of very few mainstream news channels and a majority of the alternate news portals’, she said. One saw the way in which the mainstream media was enthusiastic though unsuccessfully trying to dismantle the anti-CAA protests and are now involved in doing the ongoing farmers movement.
Alternate media at times like these have stood committed to reporting the grievances of the people. According to the founding editor of The Wire, a prominent online news portal, veteran journalist Siddharth Varadarajan, honest and ethical journalism has been possible in 2020. Varadarajan in tandem to what Rajendran had noted explained that these efforts to keep a check on lies is possible only with the financial support of the news consumers.
As Dhanya Rajendran rightly pointed out, the outreach of the alternate media has grown exponentially over time and is not restricted to English language.
Vartha Bharati web portal is an exemplary example for the non-english alternate media. Abdul Salam Puttige, the editor, and Mohammad a member of the team of Vartha Bharati portal speaking to our team noted the lack of the need for large investments to set up a news portal as a boon. Puttige observed that the Kannada web portals in gained more traction than the print media. As Mohammad rightly observed this is a double-edged sword as there are web portals that function just like any other mainstream news portals. However, portals like Vartha Bharati are dedicated to countering fake news and are standing against the blatant sensationalism of the mainstream media. According to Gururaj Desai, a core committee member of the Janashakti media, people are very well aware that the alternate media houses are working in the interest of people. He said, ‘instead of calling it alternate media, we should call it people’s media.’
Finally, it is important to note that the emergence and growth of alternate media have threatened the current government. As Rajendran observed, bringing the web portals under the authority of the Information and Broadcasting ministry, bears a witness to this felt threat. The government is trying to control the massive world of the internet which is growing to be a powerful dissenting space. Alternate media is a first step towards protecting the voices of the dissenters. It has opened up gates for a long way ahead of us to ensure that no democratically elected government would attempt to destroy democracy, and no media house would become a propaganda machine of the ruling dispensation.
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(The article was first published in Nyaya Patha and is translated by Yogesh S).