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  Opinion   Columnists  24 Jun 2024  Aakar Patel | After recent poll results, will we witness a change in ‘Godi Media’?

Aakar Patel | After recent poll results, will we witness a change in ‘Godi Media’?

Aakar Patel is a senior journalist and columnist
Published : Jun 25, 2024, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Jun 25, 2024, 12:05 am IST

The rise of "Godi Media" raises critical questions about media independence, political influence, and the future of journalism in India.

Journalist Ravish Kumar, who coined the term
 Journalist Ravish Kumar, who coined the term "Godi Media," critiques the media's close relationship with the government, underscoring the need for media independence. (Image: Facebook)

After 2014 India became familiar with the phenomenon of the “Godi Media”, a phrase coined by the Magsaysay Award-winning journalist Ravish Kumar. It refers to the media in the lap of the Prime Minister, whose name rhymes with Godi.

In his book of a few decades ago, American scholar Noam Chomsky wrote that the media in democratic nations was not really independent and did not do the task of informing the public, particularly about the overreach of the State. Instead, it engaged in what he called “manufacturing consent” in favour of the government and business interests. He said the mass media are ideological institutions carrying out propaganda, by reliance on market forces, self-censorship and without overt coercion, through a particular model.

The defining aspects of such a model were the following. First, that the media was owned by corporate interests; second, that its revenue model depended on advertising; third, that the government made it dependent by giving access only to a select few pliant reporters and anchors and by withholding licences; fourth, that this compromised and pliant media marginalised dissent and attacked the political Opposition, acting as a government mouthpiece; and fifth, it created “bogeyman” distractions that took attention away from real issues.

As may be noted by alert readers, all these conditions apply to the media in India. On some of these, such as licencing and advertising, the media is even more dependent than that in the West. Having said that, it is quite revealing to see that the revenues of India’s six listed news media companies has not risen in the last decade. The total sales of these companies in 2014 was Rs 6,325 crores and the total in 2023 was Rs 6,691 crore. The total profits in 2014 were Rs 761 crores and in 2023 they were Rs 254 crores.

Adjusted for inflation, these six listed companies (representing some of the nation’s largest news channels and newspapers) are half the size they were in 2014.

So, the question really is: why is the “Godi Media” acting against its own interests? They have not only made no money or benefited in their business, but actually shrunk. There are several reasons that are obvious. Two of them are that the nature of the media has changed in the last 20 years. Online advertising has taken a large share and most of this is money that goes to two companies, Google and Facebook. The other reason is that the economy has not been in good shape, particularly the part of it related to consumption. Neither of these is disputable. However, I felt that to understand what was going on, I spoke to people in the channels. I asked them four questions: What incentives are there for channels to back the government and attack the Opposition? To what extent are news channel operations dependent on advertising (and other favours) from the government? Do ratings generally indicate audience preference for content that is communally polarising over that which might be conventional news? Do ratings indicate audience preference for journalism that bolsters and justifies the government?

The answers I got were interesting. To the first two questions, the replies were that “if there were ways to make money, media would find a way to do so with a taller spine” and that “political pressure is not the number one cause, it is the broken revenue model”. The broken model refers to the shrinking of media revenues that we have seen. Another reply was that “revenue from government has become dependency to large extent given falling revenues overall”, and so one could not antagonise the hand that was feeding one.

Another reason was that large parts of the media were now owned by magnates like Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani, for whom the media was a side business and served a larger purpose.

On the second set of questions related to content, they said that there was no evidence to suggest that divisive or communal material received more TRP ratings compared to other stories, but material that was polarising did not lead to any dip in viewership, meaning that it was acceptable to the audience. Sometimes, however, what was in the news at the moment received “pick-up” when it was broadcast as hate speech. For instance, when the government associated Muslims with the Covid-19 pandemic, it triggered a slew of coverage that alleged Muslims were deliberately spreading the coronavirus. They also said that the overt majoritarianism under Narendra Modi has produced a condition where “existent bigotry is given a platform to be amplified”, as many channels now show. Interestingly, there was no evidence to show that supporting the government and attacking the Opposition produced higher viewership or was popular, so there was another motive for doing so.

This was the feedback that I was given when I asked what people inside why the “Godi Media” was doing what it was doing and I hope it helps readers understand the phenomenon a little more.

Lastly, the election results mean that the Opposition can no longer either be ignored or attacked in the way that it has been. For this reason, it will be interesting to see how it behaves from here on and whether there is any change in its behaviour. One hopes there is because as a journalist one has been witness to what has been undoubtedly the worst and most shameful phase of Indian journalism. It is a phase that we need to put behind us for the betterment of our democracy, our politics and our society.

 

Tags: prime minister narendra modi, ravish kumar, godi media