Evaluation and Forecasting of Indian Press

Among the adverse criticisms made of the Indian press are: it is too smug, too highly concentrated in the hands of a relatively few owners, it lacks journalistic initiative, permits banal and ineffective writing, shows little respect for and interest in technical excellence, fails to lead the nation in social progress, and is too partisan. Such charges and others are from insiders. Some brief examples:

M. Chalapathi Rau, editor, National Herald, Lucknow, a major English language daily, and one of the foremost Indian journalists: ’Considered as an expression of the elite, not of the mass, the English Language Press is remarkably anti-intellectual, furnishing mass emotion, mass thinking and mass appeal to the mass mind. The political writing may be vigorous and independent, if literary and ugly in style, but as long as it is cliche-bound, it cannot be free and convincing. The political columns lack clarity of thought and expression and consistency of vision ... Art criticism is rarely free from verbiage and jargon or the trite phrase ... ’

C. P. Ramaswamy Aiyar, member of the Press Council : ’Excepting for the Sunday Supplements of certain newspapers, very little notice is taken of anything except the daily, and almost hourly, utterances of Ministers and party leaders and their rhetorical, and not always consistent, enunciation of policy on subjects not their own.... A newspaper too often concentrates on constant denunciation of Government personages and parties and periodic suggestions of corruption or misdemeanor. On the other side another group furnishes a continuous record of propagandist views and news in which facts are subordinated to rhetoric.

Indian Hindi Press

Other views along these lines also come from outsiders, such as John P. Harris’ reaction, after that American editor toured India and visited numerous newspaper plants. The compliments are for the press’s fortitude in surviving through the years of revolution, war, government repression, and unsuitable social and economic conditions, for its ability, at times, to serve as a check rein on government, and for its defense of all freedoms. Dr. Nadig Krishna Murthy, former Indian newsman and now head of the Department of Journalism at the University of Mysore, put it thus: The press has molded public opinion and truly laid the firm foundations of democracy. It has striven to propagate views without malice and free from fear. And whatever its shortcomings, it has been true to India’s culture, heritage and destiny. To speak the truth, the Press in India has dedicated itself to work sincerely and with devotion, to promote freedom and peace in the world.’

Both sections of blame and praise are true. India’s press is so diverse and irregular in quality it is possible to find numerous examples of statements that point out either faults or virtues. In the main, however, one who has observed that press over the past decade or more must admit that weaknesses predominate. The shortcomings are not all, however, the result of proprietary stinginess or the native inabilities of the working pressman. In a nation with at least 10,000 newspapers and magazines of many sizes, types, and frequencies the delinquencies of the extremely weak should not be saddled on them all any more than the excellences of a comparative few should be credited to the whole group.

Natural conditions or economic problems, of which the press is the victim and not the cause, are at the center of much of the weakness. As Michael Hides put it earlier this year: ’A visit to almost any newspaper office outside the metropolitan centers of Delhi, Calcutta, Madras and Bombay will quickly show, however, that the urgent need is for printing machinery. Much of what is being used is little less than antediluvian, yet the results achieved from it are remarkable. ’India’s shortage of foreign currency has for some years permitted the import of only a minute amount of newspaper equipment and as is noted elsewhere in this article, there are explanations for other shortcomings. Perhaps of more importance than to dwell on what is right or wrong about the Indian newspaper is to consider what may be ahead for it.

Long range predictions as to the future of the press of a nation such as one of those of Europe or North America generally devote much attention to the possibilities and effects of such devices as computers, television, and taping machines. In some combination or other these are expected, by certain prophets, to replace the print media entirely, so that the consumer merely switches on his television receiver, presses a button, and his newspaper or magazine appears on a wall screen. Troubled as they are by inadequate conventional type-setting and printing equipment and with some exceptions, generally poor facilities for all phases of their work, Indian press proprietors are not looking that far ahead, especially since broadcasting is entirely in government hands except for the commercial radio broadcasts beamed to India from other countries, such as Ceylon.

One might think, therefore, that the professional and technological development still lacking in India would simplify any forecast. But other circumstances complicate the look ahead. The International Press Institute, through its main organization and its Indian affiliate, the Press Institute of India, are doing much to raise standards and provide practical guidance through short training courses and meetings at which editors may discuss problems, as are the departments of journalism in the universities. But the work proceeds in a nation with an uncertain political and social future.

A rapidly commercializing press, as is India’s, is increasingly dependent upon the economic order which surrounds it. If India, through conquest by the Chinese People’s Republic or economic dominance by too close a relationship to the Soviets of Russia, should become as totalitarian as they, the privately owned press is doomed. Both these are real possibilities, as China’s attack in 1962 shows and as the strength of the Communist Party press in India indicates. Should wars elsewhere, notably that in Viet Nam, break out in worldwide proportions, India could be bowled over easily. Should Pakistan, already ultra-friendly with China, come again into military conflict with India, China might have her way.

If such events do not occur, India’s press then is dependent upon internal conditions. These are not hopeful. India’s main economic and social problems are too widely known to need detailed repetition here. But food shortages, illiteracy, too rapidly rising population, lack of foreign investment, mounting indebtedness, insufficient agricultural and industrial production, rising costs of raw materials, failure for good and bad reasons alike to reach certain goals of the various Five-Year Plans, the persistent low purchasing power of the mass of the people, unrest among linguistic or regional groups, natural disasters such as monsoon failures or floods, internal political strife - all these are calculated to make the going rough for all but the wealthiest publishing firms, many of whom have learned the lesson of the wisdom of diversification of interests as a hedge against trouble in any one enterprise.

The most likely prospect, therefore, is for one of these three outcomes: a government owned press, one subsidized but not owned legally by government, or a government press existing side by side with a   powerful small press. Only a continued fight for freedom, such as that which made India the world’s largest political democracy, combined with a new, unlikely, and at present unforeseeable change in conditions, both world and national, may preserve India’s present press system.