Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Indian media's corporate affairs and UPA's 'reformist' scams

On 16 February 2011, our PM Mr. Manmohan Singh decided he will speak out, for a change, on several issues rocking the country. I watched in disbelief how easily Mr.Singh was let off by the electronic media chiefs who didn't bother to press him for serious answers for the complex issues, corruption and the inflation. Not a soul protested when the supposedly 'clean PM' equates losses due to 2G scam with food subsidies! This meeting was specially arranged between the PM and the editors of TV News channels and in hindsight, it only looks like a face-saving exercise with rigged queries and predictable answers. The meeting once again reminds us how the electronic media backed by corporate houses cares little about real issues affecting the people. They themselves, due to their corporate connections, are beneficiaries in some of the biggest economic reforms in the country. The scams which flow out of these reforms, like the 2G, naturally do not interest the electronic media. This meeting put this fact blatantly in our face.

Eminent journalist Mr. P.Sainath writes in The Hindu on how ridiculous the meeting looked. I found the article the most accurate portrayal of the meeting I found in print media. I am sharing some excerpts from that article below.

Referring to the editors representing the largely corporate media in our country today and their performance in the meeting, Mr Sainath says ".. once you've accepted the neo-liberal economic framework scripted since 1991 as wonderful and beyond reproach, then your questions get limited to asking who fluffed his lines. And as for corporate criminality, editors step on to that terrain only when left without a choice and at their own risk."

On several other critical issues, this is how Mr P.Sainath captured the conduct of the corporate media chiefs.

On how the media chiefs were covering up or deliberately digressing on the 2G scam"The first question, fair enough, was about the 2G scam and the lack of an auction in the sale of spectrum. There's something missing here, though. There was in fact an auction of spectrum — a successful one. Only it was not conducted by the government but by its corporate sector cronies who gave it away for a pittance. Having been gifted that scarce public-owned resource by the government, the cronies then auctioned it privately for astronomical sums of money."

On 'black money' and on proposed amnesty for those involved in it - "The press conference saw one abstract query and a no less abstract reply on ‘black money.' Not a single question on Indian illegal funds parked overseas in Swiss and other banks. None on why the government does not reveal the names it has in this connection. The illegal flow of such funds, according to the startling report from Global Financial Integrity, costs the nation Rs.240 crore every single day, on average. As much as Rs. 4.3 lakh crore (twice the highest estimate of the 2G scam losses) has been lost in just five years, between 2004 and 2008. And who are the main culprits? “High net-worth individuals and private companies were found to be the primary drivers of illicit flows out of India's private sector.” Seems a good subject to ask the Prime Minister some questions about. But it didn't happen."

"Nor was there a single question about the Amnesty/Immunity schemes his government seems to be planning for such criminals. This, even as it plans tougher and tougher laws for ordinary citizens, abridgement of rights for displaced persons, gutting of the public distribution system and arrests of those protesting the incredible price rise."

On Corruption, at least on those not involving 'coalition compulsions' -
"Nor, while on morality and corruption, was there a single question from the editors about the Prime Minister making Vilasrao Deshmukh Union Minister of Rural Development. A man castigated by the Supreme Court for protecting moneylenders in Maharashtra now controls rural development across the country. The Maharashtra government has even paid up the Rs.10-lakh fine imposed by the court in that case, signalling acceptance that wrong had been done while he was Chief Minister. Dr. Singh cannot plead ‘coalition compulsions' here. Mr. Deshmukh is from his own party. If he remains in the Union Cabinet after the Supreme Court trashes him, it is only because Dr. Singh wants him there. There were no ‘coalition compulsions' in brewing the CWG scam either, but that too wasn't touched upon in the questions."

On how a foreigner from CNN asked the only serious question on food inflation -
"The only serious question on food inflation, linking that to its impact on the poor in a country with 8.5 per cent growth came from a foreigner. Now our editors present knew this to be a burning issue, even for their middle class audiences. Yet Sara Sidner of CNN was the only one to raise it. "

On how the PM is unchallenged when he equates losses due to 2G scam with food subsidies! - "The Prime Minister was not challenged when he virtually equated losses in the 2G scam with subsidies to the poor. “If auctions are not taking place then what is the basis for you to calculate a loss? ... It is very much a function of what is your starting point. And also depends upon your opinion. We have a budget which gives subsidy for food, Rs.80,000 crores per annum, some people may say these foodgrains should be sold at marketplace. Will we say then because they are not sold at market prices, because you are giving them a subsidy, it is a loss of Rs. Rs.80,000 crores?”"

"Firstly, he equates plunder with the pathetic subsidies tossed at the world's largest hungry population. We rank 67th out of 84 nations in the Global Hunger Index. Secondly, subsidies for the super-rich soar each year. While food subsidies for hundreds of millions were cut by Rs. 450 crore in the last budget."

"The Prime Minister wanted to know if the editors would view the Rs.80,000 crore his government commits to food subsidies as ‘losses.' Actually, most of them do. Quite a few of them would like to see all subsidies directed at the poor to be wound up. The politically correct way of going about this is to call for the “streamlining of systems,” or “proper targeting,” or “efficiency.” A demand never once made of the tsunami of subsidies given to a handful of super-rich (media owners amongst them)."

A video of the PM's meeting can be found here.

1 comment:

Jai said...

Hey Amar,

The garb of being 'Mr. Clean' which was used to cover up for the inaction and inefficiency is torn to pieces. Really feel sorry since I too used to admire Mr. Singh. But anyways excellent post..

Cheers !!