Speaking on “Freedom of the Press/ Purse : How corporatisation of the media harms Indian democracy

The veteran editor emphasised that when journalists speak truth to the power, there is an assumption that power is innocent and naïve. It’s time to speak truth not to power but about power

P Sainath delivering the first Neelabh Mishra Memorial lecture

Voicing his concern about a recent NITI Aayog report on the water crisis, famous journalist and founder editor of PARI (People’s Archive of Rural India) P Sainath said that while NITI Aayog has recognised water crisis in the country, it advocates privatisation of water in the name of rational pricing.

Referring to an article written by NITI Aayog chief Amitahbh Kant and Parameswaran Iyer, secretary, Union ministry of drinking water and sanitation; Sainath said that the article published in a leading English daily just a couple of days before the report came showed that the government was mulling to privatise water.

He was delivering the inaugural Neelabh Mishra Memorial Lecture at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi on Saturday.

Speaking on “Freedom of the Press/ Purse : How corporatisation of the media harms Indian democracy”, Sainath said that 20 years of agrarian crisis have claimed lives of 3,05,000 farmers in India but still media was not giving the issue enough attention.

When Bombay High Court banned the IPL matches due to water crisis in the region, media barons, many of whom own IPL teams, criticised the judiciary, remarked Sainath.

Exposing shocking details of the so called “rationality” behind water pricing which Amitabh Kant advocated in his piece, Sainath said, “People of Marathwada pay one Rupee per litre in summer season. In the same Marathwada region, the 24 beer and alcohol factories pay only 4 paisa per litre.”

Highlighting the structural problem of the media and the difference between journalism and the media, Sainath said, “Problems of the media is not about a good newspaper or a bad newspaper…it is not about the individual journalist who are sold out or not sold out at all…it is sad that many of the bizarre stuff that happens every day in extremely sensitive fields like education, health are simply reported in very anodyne fashion without any editorial comment because you are scared hell of offending the government of the day.”

Addressing the audience which saw Congress president Rahul Gandhi in attendance, Sainath emphasised, “When you say we are speaking truth to power, there is an assumption that the power is innocent and naïve…Time is to speak truth not to power but about power.”

Criticising neo-liberal policies which began mindless privatisation, the senior journalist noted, “Of the major privatisation of the last 25 years, among the top beneficiaries have been the media owners…Never in the annals of the Indian media, so few profited so much from so many.”

Sainath used the metaphor of the “revolving door” to express the cross-ownership  between different industries and the media. Sainath highlighted the need to bring legislature preventing cross-ownership of media in India.

Sainath urged journalists to reclaim the mainstream media at the end of his lecture which can be watched here.

JNU professor Nivedita Menon chaired the lecture.  It was the first of the annual lecture series which are planned for every year in the memory of late Neelabh Mishra, former Editor-in-Chief of the National Herald group.