‘Activist' Journalism on TV Channels
By: Amit Bhushan, India Date: 18th April, 2017
There are a spate activist ‘news reports' on TV channels, lately. Issues are flagged around everyday concerns of the ‘common man' (read Lower to middle-middle class) which may number around some 300-400 million in the country. Incidentally, it is this class which has steadily risen in ranks in terms of opinion formulation although they may have witnessed long years of neglect by the ruling classes who thrived on caste divide in the society. The rising in part is attributed to the rise of the social media, which brought the common concerns with its political concoction rather well to cause some political tumult. The impact of this class on overall society is high because it is this class which directly interacts with the real-poor or the voting masses and is relatively more active with its own vote although the efforts to split the same goes on with gusto. Due to this proximity, their concerns get a much more direct resonance with the poor voters even as the media continues to expand its reach to the poor directly through a variety of means. This is perhaps an attempt to shrug of the poor reputation of the TV news media amongst these classes and more specifically after realization of the impact of the ‘social media' on these masses towards ‘common concerns'. So it's better late than never although wasn't really expecting the same old wine being carted in a new bottle again, that is. Also won't mind accepting that this is becoming a discussion point in public, again and to the satisfaction of the TV channels.
What one can see now on channels is concerns being raised around ‘fee hike' in private schools, sales related mal-practices amongst medicine companies with pricing/relationship politics in this/these supply chain etc. which form a formidable nexus of interest group that conjure up into symptoms/problems in society. One can see activists of stakeholders from ‘all sides' (less politicians and bureaucrats) hankering amongst themselves with some channels even claiming ‘some part victory' on account of some ‘quick-wins', howsoever miniscule or ephemeral though it may be. All this exercise seems to be around building up of the channel's image to play advocacy for the masses, which has been visibly impaired due to the rise of the ‘social media phenomenon' which allowed masses to put the grouse to public directly and helped in opinion formation, especially where these opinions reverberated the ‘common concerns' rather well. There might be some rumblings regards things like medicine which may be on-going at the central government level & some states looking to clampdown abrupt fee-hikes, however the channels want to tom-tom their opinion building role by breaking the stories ‘first' leading it to the resulting ‘impact'. Of course then we have a frenzy amongst the Journos to cater to these ‘masses' resulting in a show off for respective impact as more channels join in.
What the Journos perhaps refuse to ponder over is that the context of the settings have changed dramatically with passage of the GST bill. They still want to pander to low state level Netas, who now have little say over the matters to influence the pricing/relationship politics within these supply chains. The state powers to levy taxes have been surrendered to the center and now the low level politicians can only use some sector regulators like in Education or Medical practice sectors to issue Guidelines and perhaps threaten with some fines. Using threat to cancel licenses can only be counter-productive and improving competition in the sectors is a rather long drawn process. Earlier, the state had powers to impact the pricing/relationship politics within these supply chains by levying of taxes, however this was almost never used by any of the parties in the state whether rightist, centrist or leftist and the reason may remain unknown at best. To elaborate with an example: Suppose Medical Testing/Pathology centers form a nexus with Doctors to Jack up price to services to patients, whereby the Doctors earn a referral fee. Now, the state (now only center has such authority) comes up with a scheme that those Medical Testing/Pathology centers levying Test fee at CGHS rate or say even upto 20% higher than CGHS rate would not pay any VAT/service tax, but a higher fee than the prescribed CGHS rate would attract a VAT/service tax of say 6%. In the example, the tax is basically on the ‘nexus' which ratchets up prices while ordinary public would be guided to flock to those Medical Testing/Pathology center which go by the prescribed CGHS rates, and service providers have an incentive to keep prices down.
The Caste related politics ignored such ‘issues' since maintaining social order was its key goal as opposed to economic well-being. It is quite probable that some Netas had incentives to manage such issues, but their hold has been broken. Also, the states had only part control or influence over the issues and also had to compete with other states on various parameter resulting in very complex situation for the bureaucrats or the Netas to manage by themselves without adequate expert guidance. The Centre also didn't had complete authority and required to forge a consensus amongst state for any dramatic or radical change. Now, there is a chance that adequate expertise as well as control is plausible at the level of Centre itself. While the TV channels are picking up issues, they seem be to still catering to old galleries of the state regulators, even though they may have full knowledge of the limitations of the bureaucracies there to impact the supply chains. The changed context is yet to be fully understood by them as well as the public or even the Political parties. Although competition might be still be on to declare themselves ‘first choice' of the people for their exacting information needs.