New Delhi: At the risk of generalizing the impressions of a very small sample, some observations could be advanced about the Indian media. This writer does not consider himself technically part of the media, not being associated with the mainstream, nor indeed located in the suburbs of the profession, being rather a sort of outlier, with questionable utility and conceivably no influence. From that salient, perhaps some objective critique of the Indian media could be made.

As a rule, this writer does not read Indian (or foreign) newspapers till requirements of this column make their perusal imperative. And then, it is a dreaded excursion. Books are eminently more satisfying because they represent concentrated thought of usually the highest kind that newspapers can never match. News channels are out for this writer. He hasn’t watched television news and debates in more than a decade and, frankly, missed nothing. In the past, when friends returned stressed from watching news television debates, a daily gladiatorial event with lots of spilt blood, he could only mumble, “Don’t watch it.” Now, it seems, more and more people are taking that route on their own.

Last week, seven friends, including this writer, were engaged in a political discussion after a long time. This writer stays off political discussions because writing about politics is bad enough without carrying it over to get-togethers. The discussion took a slight tangent when one friend, an IT professional aged 50, accused the media of poisoning the atmosphere. It turned out not to be a solitary view from the broad affirmations he generated. This writer decided to take a small test of which of the group thought the media was turning things uglier than they were. This was a mixed group of articulate homemakers, entrepreneurs and professionals. One by one, the hands went up. A full house had voted against the media. All six friends said they had stopped watching news channels. Some of them also said they had ceased reading newspapers.

A variation of that response came unexpectedly from a relative calling from California. From a discussion of books, the conversation veered to newspapers. For its financial coverage and engaging writing style, she liked the Wall Street Journal. She was put off by the Los Angeles Times with the exception of its older columnists who wrote sensibly and its non-political stories. She said she had outgrown the New York Times. Its preachiness irritated her. Her choices do not reflect her political leanings, which are probably still sympathetically biased towards the Democratic Party. But she had enough of one section of the media. Its message and its aggression which the likes of John Kerry and the rest of East Coast establishment too inescapably spearhead no longer appealed to her.

By all means this is a small sample of opinion. But its simple and potent message can be ignored by the media (and the Indian one, especially) to its own peril. Revulsion is building up towards the media. This revulsion is being acted out in such extreme and nonviolent forms as switching off altogether from news television and leaving the newspapers delivered at doorsteps unread for days. The Indian media is rapidly ranting and outraging its way to irrelevance. For the young, the social media has become the alternative platform. Unless the Indian media reforms itself, it is finished.

The government can have no role in this. The Indian Constitution is committed to free speech with only reasonable restrictions. Reasonable is the operative word. With full responsibility, this writer makes the charge that the Indian media has become unreasonable. Has the race for higher circulation and higher TRPs pushed the media to tabloidization? Perhaps. There is a second and third factor certainly. The media is increasingly owned by political interest groups. That would explain the urge to poison the landscape. Corporate ownership of the media is the third factor. When Manmohan Singh started the 1991 reforms, Indian corporates hit back with the demand for a “level playing field”. The Narendra Modi government has put a stop to corporate loot of natural resources like coal, hydrocarbons, etc. Middlemen have no role today. Are corporates hitting back though the media they own?

Whatever the cause, media credibility is at an all time low. The government shouldn’t be concerned one way or the other. But it will soon become a life-and-death issue for the media.