Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested on Tuesday that the Indian media ‘go global’ like the nation’s other products. This is, indeed, a moot observation as there is no doubt the Indian media establishment punches well below its weight. Compare this with the impact Bollywood films have around the world. This naturally means considerably reduced influence as only India’s diplomats are left to communicate its views to the world. It is not surprising, therefore, to see the level of ignorance about India, especially its politics, among peoples and leaders in most countries of the world. Were it not for the considerable presence of NRIs, India would still be viewed by many as just a nation of snake-charmers. The increased insularity of people in developed countries has also contributed to this image. This is indicated by the comparatively slow growth of tourist arrivals in India. Even small city states like Singapore perform better.
This also has an impact on Indians, who have to depend on highly subjective reportage and analysis by foreign news outlets of events around the world. It does not augur well for the people of a rising global power to be poorly informed about goings-on even in the immediate neighbourhood, leave alone other parts of the world. Under the circumstances, it should come as no surprise that an event like the Sushant Singh Rajput case becomes the solitary topic that media obsesses over.
One of the reasons for the failure to rise up to global levels is the faulty business model of Indian media. Government regulations have a lot to do with it, as the ‘socialist’ model of the past has left a legacy of distrust for independent minded newspapers and, now, the TV channels. As a result, the effort was to develop a crippling dependence on government advertisements, thereby curtailing the growth of competition and excellence. Several means were adopted to subvert the emergence of large media houses, creating a class of crony owners and journalists who were happy to exercise the influence they exercised in return for compliance. The insistence on keeping out foreign investment and media ownership ensured global standards could not be achieved. Monopoly based marketing and sales by media houses also led to ‘pruning’ of costs on journalists. Today, it can be safely said, journalism is not a profession at all. How ‘inessential’ they are can be gauged by the fact that they were among the first to be laid off when the corona crisis hit.
If India is to actually go global on the media front, the model will have to be changed entirely. What it would be will depend on the new technologies of information dissemination that emerge in the days and years to come. India will need to anticipate and ride that wave if it is to make an impact.