The Indian Press is Loathsome

The media has become pliant and servile.

hlPeople deserve the government they get. That’s generally true, but in the particular case where the government is democratically elected, as H L Mencken observed, “the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” But why just restrict just deserts to governments alone — the easy extension is the press. People deserve the press they get, and Exhibit A is the Indian mainstream media.

Press not Free

The press and the government go hand in hand. That’s true regardless of whether it is a democracy or a dictatorship. The much vaunted Indian free press is not really free. It is not free the sense of “free beer”, it is not free in the sense of “open source” and it is not free in the sense of “not ruled over or dictated to.” Bad government or bad press: which came first? It is hard to figure out the direction of causation though the correlation is pretty evident.

The Indian media is not free because ultimately the government controls it. It does so directly because the Indian constitution empowers the government to restrict the freedom of speech and expression to what it considers appropriate. The government also indirectly controls the press through its large advertising budget. The government can financially ruin newspapers by withholding advertising. Newspapers cannot afford to alienate the government and therefore the reporters they employ are those that are willing to bow and scrape in front of the powerful.

Colonial Legacy

In a country like India with its colonial legacy and institutions, the government is powerful and controls everything. The restrictions on freedom of speech, like other restrictions that Indians suffer, originate in British rule. The Wikipedia notes in “Freedom of Speech by Country

Freedom of speech is also restricted by Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 which deals with sedition and makes any speech or expression which brings contempt towards government punishable by imprisonment extending from three years to life. In 1962 the Supreme Court of India held this section to be constitutionally valid in the case Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar.

Those Britishers who restricted the speech of Indians did so under the rules they made in 1860. That’s 155 years ago. Those Britishers are dead but Indians continue to be ruled by them.

Descent into Kakistocracy

The more powerful the government, the more corrupt it is likely to be. Government power is exercised by people who are not immune to any of the usual human failings of greed and the lust for power. If being in the government affords people the chance to make enormous personal gains, then the most greedy and the most corrupt would seek to be in government.

The competition for government positions is intense among the most corrupt and the least principled, and this drives out people who are competent and principled. It is a downward spiral because the crooks who do make it to positions of power, will seek to enlarge that power by enlarging the government, thus increasing the scope for increased corruption, which will attract even more crooked people . . . till you have what you see in India: a kakistocracy — government by the least principled and the most corrupt.


Always pay attention to trends. In the 1950s and ’60s, the government officials (bureaucrats and politicians) were not absolutely honest but nowhere so desperately dishonest as they are now. The trend has been downward. The prime ministers in those days were not paragons of virtue but in terms of character, they were nowhere close to the sheer dishonesty of the man (I use the word “man” very loosely) who was appointed figurehead prime minister under the UPA.

The press then was not as compromised as it is today. This is to be expected because even though India is still a shockingly poor country, the economy has grown several times over the last few decades, and with it the chances and size of the looting from the public has also increased. Therefore the public has to be bamboozled into believing half-truths and even outright lies. That’s where the press steps in. It serves the government by giving it cover. Small newspapers somehow manage to retain some degree of independence but the large ones have to do as the government dictates or else .. …

By press, I mean the newspapers and TV. Radio is not included because privately operated radio stations are prohibited from carrying news and analysis. Only government owned radio channels are allowed to carry news — which essentially amounts to taxpayer funded government propaganda.

The Internet

There’s a glimmer of hope in this bleak landscape: the internet. It dramatically lowered the entry barriers to public discourse. Of course, that immediately means that the government will do everything it can to throttle it. The more people have access to the internet, the more the government will suppress it. Seema Mustafa wrote, in “Blundering UPA Government, Meandering Congress” (13 June 2011) –

speechUnfortunately the media has become so pliant and servile that Chidambaram gets away with speech that would have created a storm of protest and walkouts by journalists even till 15 years ago.

The media has become pliant and servile. Understandably so since the government has very large sticks to beat it with and large stocks of carrots to feed it. Carrots and sticks of course are something that motivate domesticated beasts of burden, but no moral judgement should be passed on them since their response is genetically programmed by evolution. In the case of the media, however, their servility is immoral and loathsome.

Why are they loathsome

The American journalist Michael Kelly (who tragically died while reporting from Iraq in 2003) wrote a piece for his fraternity to do some introspection on way back in 1999, “The Know-Nothing Media.” He addressed it to “Fellow hacks, scribblers, on-air talent, talking heads and pundits” —

. . . may we speak about a delicate subject? To wit: Why does everyone loathe us so? Because, my little preciouses, we are so loathable.

Speaking on behalf of the media, he claimed (1) We are so relentlessly mindless (2) We are so blatantly unfair  and (3) We are such awful frauds. Now if relentlessly mindless, blatantly unfair, and awful frauds is not a fitting description of Barkha, Rajdeep, Shekhar, Sagarika and the rest of the sorry bunch, I don’t know what is.

(This was previously published as The Press as a Perfectly Loathsome Pimp on Atanu Dey on India’s Development in June 2011.)'
Dr. Atanu Dey is an economist and author of the book, “Transforming India.”
  • Atanu_Dey

    Here’s an example of government advertising: Kejriwal advertising in Mumbai HT paper. It will go a long way in making sure AAP gets favorable coverage in HT.

  • Dr. MS

    “Those Britishers who restricted the speech of Indians did so under the rules they made in 1860. That’s 155 years ago.Those Britishers are dead but Indians continue to be ruled by them”.

    I see this everyday after I return to India after 30 years of overseas living.

  • Karthik N

    Just a few days back, I thought of financially contribution to the Indiafacts’ team. This was based on numerous well critiqued articles. But something held me back. This article justifies my action. It is a classic case in point of what other MSM “stories” are also doing. Portray part of the picture to create strong impressions and opinion in the minds of people. This is what is referred to as a “hitjob” by some. As Tiruvalluvar has mentioned the fact that this is an article from 2011 should have been mentioned upfront.

    Technically many things are possible. However, can Mr. Dey, the author of this piece and the responsible Indiafacts’ team confirm the following:
    Is the Government of India in anyway interfering in the functioning of the media today?

    • Atanu_Dey

      I do hope you realize the irony of your position where on the one hand you decided to withhold financial support because you did not agree with the views expressed in the piece, and your implied view that the government of India is not in any way interfering in the functioning of the media.

      In case you do not realize the contradiction, allow me to spell it out to you.

      We all — you, me, those in government, those in media — are self-interested people. We look out after our own interests. We support those with whom we agree. We withhold favors when we disagree. We speak favorably of those who have the power to help us.

      The government has a massive advertising budget. It is big enough for “interfering in the functioning of the media”. Not just that, the government controls the tax authorities. Income tax raids are really inconvenient. Add to that there are licenses and quotas. The quota for newsprint, for instance.

      There are enough levers the government can use. But really, the government does not have to use it. The fact that these are available is sufficient to persuade rational (as in self-interested and being able to work out the consequences of actions) media persons to do the “right” thing.

      You may perhaps recall that the UPA chair was never questioned by the media when the UPA was in power. Care to ponder why this was so? Maybe, just maybe, you would conclude that the press then wasn’t as free as one would want it to be.

      Sure, that was then and this is now. But the ad budget is still there, the quotas and licences are still there, and with all that, the implied threat is still there.

      Enough people outside the main stream media have criticized the media in alternative media. IndiaFacts is only one of the many who are not exposed to the government’s direct control. It helps in creating a competitive marketplace of ideas and opinions, and reportage. Certainly, not everyone will agree with every analysis but a diversity of views is important to have. Even if there is one person who stands aside from the crowd and gives reasons why the consensus viewpoint is not the only valid one, it adds to the vitality of the discourse.

      You are right in withholding your financial support. That’s the power you have. Just like you, the government has power — and in quantities that you and I cannot imagine.

      • Rama

        This is a misleading article. If anything, the MSM works against NDA. Please provide some evidence about partiality of the media towards the PRESENT Govt. And please do not generalize about ethics of the people. That people can be bought one way or other is an insult to many honest people . Yes, you should have made it clear that the article was written in 2011 and in bold letters.
        BTW, I hold you and and views in high esteem but this article is a disappointment.

      • Karthik N

        Thank you for your reply Mr. Dey. Here are few points:
        1. I think the irony that you speak about, died by the shear length of your reply for such a simple comment.
        2. Many people here have explicitly demanded what I have (come out clean).
        3. Any more argument(s) on this is only going to be a “Waste of time” and indulgence in “Intellectual Moronery”.

    • gk

      I think the major point of the article was that the Indian Media serves itself rather than the public. That is quite relevant today. The reason it is quite biased against BJP government is because the media persons are colonized deracinated sepoys who want Bharat to be a satellite of the ‘developed West’. They despise any indigenous political organisations as those would expose the lazy coconuts they really are.
      BJP government has really mismanaged the media situation. When the entire media is against it, there should have been a game plan to tackle the media.
      I think we must support India facts because it is doing a great job with all the well researched articles. We cannot find a media house with whom we can agree 100%.

  • Tiruvalluvar

    How about putting the notice that this was originally published in 2011 at the top than at the bottom. KLPD onlee.

    • Atanu_Dey

      Now that you know that it was previously published in 2011, do you have any comment? Or does that fact exhaust your thoughts on the matter?

      • Indian

        Tch Tch saving the skin of Bongo Brother ORNOB GOO-SOW-ME, PORNO roys, Suar kaa Gost sorry Sagarika Ghosh and Ilk and White Italian Chachi420..Amra Bengali Fascist way?? Or Commie swine flu entered this side also..After all ALL are dishonest and Backward except the Commiefied Jihadi Sex tourism Waste Bengal

  • Abyss

    Perhaps this article might’ve made sense back in 2011, but, in the current times, which of the MSM channels’ is influenced by the government? There are 5 main English channels – Times Now, CNN-IBN, NDTV, News X, Headlines today, none of which are sympathetic to the current government. The only seemingly government controlled channels are Rajya Sabha TV, Lok Sabha TV & DD, which have a very small viewership anyway. Add on top of this, International channels like BBC and Al Jazeera, which also are full of anti-India propaganda.

    • Atanu_Dey

      Do tell how many reports have you seen that are critical of the top three movers and shakers of India? I am not spelling out who these top three are. I leave it as an exercise for the interested. I give you a free hint: who are the three that the media has not (and dare not) criticize? Anyone who has been criticized is certainly not in the ruling elite. Enough said.

      • Abyss

        Let’s not play riddles here. Instead of spending my time guessing about what’s on your mind, it would be easier if you just spell it out and then we may have an actual meaningful discussion.

      • Indian

        Sonia, rahul and priyanka Mr Atanu Dey.they are beyond scrutiny .Maybe this is republished, to create confusion and save the filthy skins of White Italian Goddess SOW-NIA . Commies (Read Amra Bengali) ‘break from within” infiltration

    • N.Paramasivam

      Yes, I agree. Besides, the 5 main English channels give wrong reporting with regard to Government and P.M Modi. News about Cong or AAP are given if they are positive. If any adverse news are there, then we cannot hear at all in these 5 channels. So one sided, that we even get bored of scolding, scolding, scolding all through the day.

    • Arun Kumar

      You are mistaken. DD has the largest viewership and reach. Perhaps you meant the the English channels have a larger reach among the middle class.

      • Abyss

        Yep, that was the general idea. So essentially, the Twitteratti and modern day keyboard warriors are the ones hooked on to these channels.

  • Shubhangi Raykar

    And Arnab Goswami

    • Indian

      This article is to save GOO-SOW-ME skin no doubt.As writer pointed out everything has a Tag, in his arrogance. And Unreal Times today wrote “Pappu to contact right wing SM people on web”