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Journalism is too important to be left to Journalists alone: KG Suresh
With over two decades of media experience, KG Suresh, Director and Chief executive Editor, Global Foundation for Civilizational Harmony (India), an affiliate of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations believes Journalism is too important to be left to Journalists alone. In a conversation with Merinews CJ Kriti Batra, he speaks of the role, Citizen Journalists can play in creating an alternate platform in the Indian society where mainstream media sees everything in the prism of advertisements.

CJ: Tell us about the Indian media industry, its basics, responsibility, operational procedure and functioning?


Suresh: Prior to independence, media had a missionary zeal, which continued for some years after independence also. However, with some exceptions, over the years, media has become more like any other business, which is a matter of serious concern. Considering the fact that despite several achievements, India is home to most of the poor, illiterate and malnourished people in the world and lies below even many African countries in matters related to health and gender, the Indian media has a lot at hand to do.


Earlier, most of the Indian publications were owned by individuals but over the years, large corporates have taken over. Many of the leading publications continue to be family owned while leading news agencies are run by Trusts comprising newspaper owners. There are also some, which are run by cooperatives and societies such as The Tribune and The Samaj, a leading Oriya newspaper.


Several newspapers are now run on corporate lines with clear demarcation between the editorial and management sides. Commercialization of news has become a fact of life with newspapers such as Media Net launched by the Times of India promoting even advertising and public relations material as news. While even conservative newspapers such The Hindu have joined the rat race for circulation and are engaging in price and advertisement wars with their rivals. They were known for maintaining a semblance of editorial supremacy as against crass commercialization and commodification.


Content wise too, the focus of most newspapers, particularly the English media, is urban-centric and it would not be an exaggeration to even term them elitist. Over the years, there has also been a mushrooming of television channels and in the mad race for TRP and advertisements, credibility of media has become the first casualty.


CJ: A few thousand Journalists covering the news ‘of and for’ 1 billion people. Do you think Indian media is equipped enough to do justice to the job?


Suresh: Certainly, the number seems inadequate but I would lay more emphasis on quality rather than quantity - quality of not only of the journalists but also the media organizations in terms of content and management priorities. Today we have property dealers with criminal background and politicians with black money who are running television channels and newspapers. This is healthy neither for the media nor for democracy.


CJ: In your opinion, how proactive had Indian media been in bringing out news from the grass-root level in India?


Suresh: Though there are shortcomings, I would give full marks to the regional or language (vernacular) media in this regard. Unfortunately, with some honourable exceptions such as P Sainath of The Hindu, you don’t see much of grass-root level reporting. Today, the newspapers are focused on their markets and target audience whereas as a developing country, our priorities need to be different altogether. An inclusive development model is what even the media should work for.


CJ: Do you see an increasing role of Citizen Journalists in Indian scenario?


Suresh: With an ever burgeoning educated, net savvy generation, it is but natural. Moreover, with mainstream media becoming the voice of the middle class and market forces increasingly setting their agenda and television trivializing news content with stand up comedies, the ordinary citizen looks for alternative media to air his or her grievances. Here comes the role of Citizen Journalists.


CJ: Do you see bloggers coming forward to play a greater role in news generation in India?


Suresh: Yes, particularly in areas neglected by mainstream media. I won’t expect readers to take bloggers seriously on major national or international developments, unless they are high-profile dignitaries or celebrities but on issues of local importance, such as corruption, civic negligence, consumer issues, bloggers have a potential.


CJ: Traditional Journalism vs. Citizen Journalism – what is your take?


Suresh: Whether it is traditional or Citizen Journalism, both have to be more responsible and accountable. The advantage with the traditional media is that there is a semblance of checks and balances, there is an in-built mechanism, mostly in the form of editorial section to ensure that writings and productions don’t overstep their limits or violate the law of the land in terms of seditions, defamatory or inflammatory material whereas in Citizen Journalism, except in cases like  Merinews (where you have an editorial board), the content is solely at the individual’s discretion, which can be a dangerous weapon.


Moreover, its fine when Citizen Journalism is confined to disseminating news. The danger comes into play when the attempt is to propagate your own views and in the process the content becomes more subjective than objective. This is not to give a clean chit to traditional media which is also increasingly mixing news with views and becoming susceptible to the dulcet calls of paid news but at least in the higher echelons of responsible publications, there is a genuine concern to maintain impartiality and in the process sustain the interests of a wide ranging readership.


CJ: Do you think common man coming forward in generating news makes the media scenario more democratic? Or does it lead to more chaos and confusion?


Suresh: Unlike the first amendment to the US Constitution, which explicitly guarantees press freedom, we have no such enabling provision and as such any ordinary citizen is as entitled to air his views on any subject as a Journalist but at the same time, Journalism is not creative writing. It calls for understanding the laws of the land, the Constitution, norms and Journalistic ethics. Therefore, some training and accreditation, which need not be as stringent as that for a lawyer, doctor or a chartered accountant, has to be put in place. While Citizen Journalism enables a large number of non-journalists to participate in the information process, it is equally important that it is done through a credible platform with checks and balances; otherwise there is a genuine scope for democracy to degenerate into anarchy. Even civil defence and traffic management calls for some training, which these Citizen Journalists too should undergo as they are dealing with a powerful weapon, which can prove destructive if not harnessed properly. Citizen Journalism should not degenerate into yellow Journalism.


Having said this, I wish to conclude by saying that Journalism is too important to be left to Journalists alone. Citizens too should play a key and a responsible role.

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