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21 Jan 2017

Demonetization: IMPACT ON MEDIA

Geetartha Pathak, ScribeNews, IJU: The media coverage of the impact of the demonetization that shook the entire country pushing people in general into economic hardships from different angles has once again raised the issue of media integrity.As we know that media integrity refers to the ability of media organizations to serve public interest and democratic process making it resilient to institutional corruption within the media system, economy of influence, conflicting dependence and political clientlism. Media integrity suffers when such a relation between the owners of media and political centre of power evolves. It has been observed that a section of media not only merely echoed the official standpoint on demonetization but they have added other supportive narratives to enhance the credibility of the government, more precisely of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
A large section of media failed to place the logic of the exercise of demonetization in democratic strands. Some of them may have drifted in the hyperbole or compromised with media integrity in exchange of benefit. The cash based informal sector and the rural economy have received a body blow.
People are now raising question as to why media, especially the TV news-channels, do not focus more on the impact of demonetization on the economy? The problem is that a section of the media appears to be obsessively focused on how the political parties will perform in elections that take place periodically in one state or the other.
While media's overall role in reflecting the sufferings of people in the aftermath of demonetization that messed up the economy was not up to the satisfaction of the people, the government machinery was geared up to let the people relish swallowing the bitter pill by orchestrating massive campaign in favour of the demonetization. Days after the decision was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 8, the Press Information Bureau's social media wing started a campaign on Twitter titled : Demonetisation Myths Busted to dispel a rising confusion on the issue. The PIB's social media unit is currently running another campaign in association with government thinktank Niti Aayog called "DigiTutorials to encourage masses to make digital payments. A section of the media was was influenced by the campaign and indulged in publishing official narrative with question.
Immediately, after the announcement of demonetization on 8 November, reports of shredded banned notes of Rs of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 being found flowing into rivers or dumped in dustbins appeared in the media. One can observe a pattern in such incidents all over the country. Why the black money holder would spend time to tear the banned notes and take the trouble to bring them in sacks to dump in a dustbin or throw in the river as they can easily destroy them in fire or bury in their backyard? It seemed that all such incidents were stage managed to justify demonetization Media could have investigated such incidents and focus such incidents.
Most of the media houses national and regional, went into campaign mode and published prominently one sided and unsubstantiated stories listing perceived benefits and adopted terms like 'surgical strike against corruption' coined by the publicists of the government and the ruling party spokespersons. The stories listing the woes of the common people were down played and pushed to inside pages. Some news channels started playing up Fake news and when the stories were proved to be wrong they did not care to publish /telecast retractions. A visual news agency went to the extent of deploying its own staff to enact a fake 'digital tea stall' in Delhi.
A Hindi news channel telecast stories saying that the new currency notes have chips embedded in them using the Nano technology to detect its circulation if it is used to amass unaccounted money by corrupt elements. Later the Reserve Bank of India rubbished the claim of Nano technology and chip. But the news channel whose owner recently got elected to the upper house of Parliament on ruling party ticket did not even care to retract and offer apology.
The real media focus could be on whether the people,especially the vulnerable and economically-weaker sections of the country were able to withstand the impact of this giant monetary exercise at present before they safely stepped into a future when things would hopefully get better. The genuine focused concern orf the media could be on how demonetization affected the people and not just political parties which rely on anonymous cash donations and might have been hit by the demonetization.
Downsizing of media staff
The impact of demonetization on media business is another concern which is largely overlooked by the economic observers. At least two big newspaper groups have decided to downsize the start, reduce pages and supplements from their publications. The Quint reported on 10 December "Even as the Narendra Modi government's demonetization move has begun to bite the Indians hard, the ABP Group, which publishes two of eastern India's most popular newspapers - the Bengali daily Anandabazar Patrika and the English newspaper The Telegraph - is all set to retrench jobs of both journalists and non journalists. The downsizing of its workforce, by as much as 40 percent, will begin with immediate effect. The information related to this imminent job cut has been conveyed to employees informally. Though the company has not officially declared the number of employees who would be offered the 'golden hand-shake's there are indications that the number would be high. The Quint further notes "The impression that gained currency was that some 40-50 percent employees would be sacked. This was further strengthened as heads of various departments have already been verbally instructed by the ABP management to prepare a list of 50 percent of the employees whose jobs could be dispensed with."
Another reputed media group based in Delhi, the Hindustan Times has closed down six editions and two business bureaus at Delhi and Kolkata with effect from 9 January, apparently due to the crisis created by the demonetization. It retrenched about 300 journalists and non-journalists by paying them a severance pay of two months salary. The NDTV is reported to be thinking of retrenching some staff by closing down bureaus at several centres. The Hindu told its bureau chiefs and editors to save money by cutting down on travel and entertainment. Demonetization may be one of the reasons for downsizing but there may be more reasons behind the action which will be known in due course of time. In a highly competitive and growing media market in India economic instability may further accentuate the volatility in both print and electronic media segments.
The author is senior journalist based at Guwahatti. He is also the Vice-President of Indian Journalists Union (IJU)

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