The government-ordered raid on NDTV and searches of Prannoy Roy’s properties should show the Indian bhadralok, if it requires any showing, how far things have gone under the Modi regime. Fascists have ordered the raids on the channel not for being anti-fascist or upholder of democracy, but for not being fascist enough. The message is to fall in line, and fall in line they would after a couple of protests and a scathing programme or two anchored by Ravish Kumar. Roys are no great seekers of martyrdom.
It is a sad commentary on the state of things that NDTV group is even seen by some people as the conscience-keeper of liberal India; that is because it is so often compared to other channels that are nothing more than the loud, gurgling sewage drains of ultra right propaganda. They, i.e. NDTV, certainly are least insane… if only this could make them a defender of sanity or a symbol of democratic resistance! One can justly defend their right to free speech and right to operate in the news and entertainment business, without being under any illusion that Roys or their outfit will change. All they want, and deserve, is a reprieve. They should get it – with or without the public support.
NDTV represents a crucial moment in media history (in the 1980s) when the widely felt need for free and independent broadcast media (free from and independent of government control) was systematically confused with, and led to the rise of, the privatized and corporatized electronic media. Ruling classes in India were eager to say goodbye to the remnants of the Nehruvian baggage. The clever diversion had to come from within the political system itself and with the help of public money. So from the bosom of the government and Doordarshan emerged outfits like NDTV, policy architects like Bhaskar Ghosh and go-getter entrepreneurs like Prannoy Roy. The decisive breaks were made in the Rajiv Gandhi era. The rest is now history.
It is easy to see how these developments rapidly led to the shrinkage of news, trivialization of entertainment and dominance of commercial interest. However, what escapes the notice so often is the absolute merger of interests of private media with that of the neoliberal state, now under the overall supervision of Hindutva forces. They work in unison, in a way AIR or Doordarshan never could (because of structural reasons and the rule of public accountability). The television channels have become cheap and uncritical conduits of various campaigns of disinformation manufactured by the state agencies and ultra right circles in India. They all have relentlessly promoted communalised jingoism, right wing advocacy, open espousal of private corporate interest. The fact is the media is virtually owned by same private interests that have now taken firm control of the organs of the state.
The media were never as subservient and unfree as they are today.
One must stand with NDTV, knowing that NDTV itself hasn’t stood with anyone or anything. They are, to borrow from Robert Musil, people “Without Qualities”.