India: Journalist exam proposal sparks media backlashBy Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay Aug 22, 2013 12:43PM UTC
India’s minister for information and broadcasting Manish Tewari has come under heavy fire this week after raising the idea of a licensing exam for Indian journalists. Words like ‘preposterous’ and ‘laughable’ have been commonly heard in media circles as journalists made their feelings known.
Tewari’s suggestion was that a ‘common examination’ should be conducted for journalists by a competent professional body which would issue ‘licenses’ to aspiring journalists. Only after acquiring such a permission to practise what they have learnt – or unlearnt – mainly in private colleges after most paying through their noses, will they earn the right to seek a job in the market as a media practitioner.
“I think a good starting point would be that rather than possibly prescribing a curricula which is then standardised across institutions, possibly the media industry could think about at least having a common exam,” Manish Tewari was quoted as saying.
Predictably there has been a howl of protests from all sections of the Indian media. But beyond the derision that has marked even political discourse – one Opposition member of Parliament, Jay Panda, even tweeted: ‘Next, a govt license b4 you can post on Twitter,’ – is the discomforting truth that large sections of the Indian political class sees the media as an intrusive force which prevents complete State control of opinion making.
In fact, with disinformation ministers like Tewari, where is the need for the likes of Joseph Goebbels? Or for that matter, with a leader like Tewari, groomed in the Congress party since his youth, at the helm of the party’s propaganda machinery, can the party now continue its charge against Narendra Modi that he needs to be opposed for his fascist traits and disinformation campaign?
Tewari in many ways is inconsequential because despite being minister with charge of both government and non-government he is unable to articulate his misgiving about the profession. It does not take much effort to locate sufficient numbers of senior journalists – active in various mediums – who are extremely critical about the depth to which the profession and the industry has fallen. They suggest means to rectify this and conceded that even in the past, the profession had its share of second-raters and power-hungry practitioners who cosied up to political masters and money bags.
Post-independence India saw the newspaper industry being seen as a mission both by those who ran newspapers – because they made no profits and had to be subsidised by other businesses of the owners – and by journalists, who were paid abysmally. This continued for almost three decades and in this period hardly any newspaper was started. The market remained restricted and journalists saw themselves as partners in nation building.
The trend changed after the Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi was lifted and investigative or angry journalism saw a sharp rise, along with a boom in the number of magazines being published from the late 1970s. By the late 1980s media started emerging as an industry where significant profits could be made. Big money also came into the profession as industrialists got into the business and, in an attempt to create a niche product, began wooing journalists who would not otherwise touch ‘slush’ money with wages that were significantly higher than the prevailing levels.
However, prior to economic liberalisation of the 1990s, the media in India remained limited in size. But with exponential growth due to several factors – huge rise in literacy rate, advent of satellite television and the resulting increase in the clout of media in Indian languages – saw a huge increase in the demand for journalists. But though the industry grew exponentially, little thought was given to creating training grounds to produce personnel who would work as journalists.
The Indian media surely needs corrective measures but this can hardly be achieved by requiring journalists to have licenses, like pilots. India has a long tradition of free media, which has acquired more power in the age of Internet and now social media.
Instead of targeting individual journalists, governments and political leaders may do better for themselves and for the profession by scrutinising laws pertaining to media ownership and partnerships with the industry. Vested interest groups have become entrenched in the Indian media and thought needs to be given to free the industry of such forces. Other corrective steps can then follow.