Window Seat | Mrinal Chatterjee

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Media and Politics

Media and Politics has had a very close relationship from a very long time. In fact most of our freedom fighters were associated with newspapers either as editor or publisher or contributor. Post-independence the trend continued. But with a difference. Politicians gradually began to use media under their control or command for their self-gain. So did political parties. As media was perceived to wield the power to influence public opinion and accord a kind of social respectability many money-bags also entered into media business and through media into politics. Political parties also wooed several such business men owning media for their own benefit. In a way politics and media began to have a peculiar kind of relationship.

This happened all over the country. Consider the number of owner/editor of media given Rajya Sabha nomination by political parties in recent past. Names like Kumar Ketkar, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Sahhid Siddique, Chandan Mitra, Hari Vansh, Pritish Nandy immediately comes to the mind.

Politicians also took to media in a big way. Consider the case in Odisha. From the independence till early 2019 Odisha has had 15 Chief Ministers. Out of the 15 Chief Ministers as many as seven were actively involved in journalism, either bringing out newspapers as editors or publishing a newspaper. Harekrushna Mahatab, Biju Pattnaik, Biren Mitra and Rajendra Narayan Singh Deo published Prajatantra, Kalinga, Janashakti and Swarajya’ respectively. Nandini Satpathy helped publish ‘Dharitri’. Nilamani Routray was the editor of Prajatantra. So was Janaki Ballabh Patnaik, who started his career as journalist in Eastern Times’ and later became its editor of this daily and Prajatantra.

Radhanath Rath, the longest serving editor of Samaja was a minister. Surendra Mohanty who was the editor of Kalinga and later of Sambad was a MP. Pradyumna Bal who was the editor of the daily Pragativadi was also an MP. Debendra Satpathy, who was the editor of Dharitri was two terms MP from Dhenkanal. Dinalipi had a politician and former Union Minister Bibhudendu Mishra as its editor. Sradhakar Supakar, who was the editor of Hirakhanda was a MP. Bairagi Mohanty, editor of Swarajya was an active member of Swatantra Party. Rabi Das, who was the managing editor of Pragativadi was an office bearer of Congress (S).

In the recent times, many Odia newspapers have owner-editors who are active in politics, Bhrartruhari Mahatab (editor, Prajatantra) and Soumya Ranjan Pattnaik (editor, Sambad) are presently MPs and contesting General Election 2019. Bhrartruhari is a five times MP and contesting for Cuttack Parliamentary Constituency on Biju Janata Dal (BJD) Ticket. Soumya Ranjan is a Rajya Sabha MP and is contesting from Khandapada Assembly Constituency. Tathagat Satpathy (editor, Dharitri and Orissa Post) had own Dhenkanal Parliamentary constituency since 2004 and had announced that he would not be contesting 2019 election. Ranjib Biswal (Managing Editor, Samaya) for instance is also a Rajya Sabha Member and National Spokesperson of Congress Party. His elder brother Chiranjib Biswal (Chairman, Samaya) is the Dy. Leader of Opposition in Odisha Assembly and member of All India Congress Committee. It is interesting to note that Sambad, Dharitri and Samaya are among the top five largest circulated dailies in Odisha.

There are many first generation politician-media persons as well. Kharabela Swain, who was BJP MP from Balasore was publishing Bishesh Khabar, a weekly since 1990. He fell out with BJP, floated his own party and recently has rejoined BJP. Jagi Mangat Panda, wife of former MP Baijayanta Panda, owns Ortel and OTV Network, which enjoys huge command in terms of TV Viewership and Television distribution. Bijayanta is contesting 2019 Election from Kendrapara Parliamentary Constituency. Achyuta Samanta, Founder of Kalinga TV is presently an MP (Rajya Sabha) and is contesting for Kandhamal Lok Sabha in BJD ticket. Editor of Odia daily Sanchar Damodar Rout is contesting from Balikuda Erasama assembly seat on BJP Ticket and his son Sambit Routray is nominated by BJD to contest Paradip assembly constituency. Hrudanand Mallick, founder of Sakala Odia daily was an MLA from Dhamnagar Constituency. Later his son Manas Mallick led this newspaper and also become an MLA. Presently his other son Sanjeev Mallick has been nominated by BJD to contest from Bhadrak Assembly seat.

Several politicians have either bankrolled media outfits or have control over the editorial content in many newspapers and news channels. It is open secret that BJD MP from Balasore Rabindra Kumar Jena is closely associated with News World Odisha and BJD MLA and former Minister Pranab Prakash Das is often linked with MBC TV. Similarly, former minister and BJD MLA Sanjay Das Burma owns Sarbasadharan news daily. Rabindra is contesting for Balasore Lok Sabha Seat, while Pranab and Sanjay are contesting from Jajpur and Brahmagiri Assembly seat, respectively.

There is nothing wrong in politicians publishing newspapers or launching television channels or becoming editors. In fact history is witness to the great work politicians like Mahatma Gandhi did in the journalism domain. Many of our freedom fighters were actively associated with newspapers either as journalist or writer or editor or publisher. What is of concern is the use of the press under one’s control in furthering narrow selfish political agenda. What is more disturbing is to feed misinformation, disinformation and thereby compromising truth.

Political parties or politicians owning media outfit is not bad per se. But when the entire spectrum is crammed by media owned/managed by political parties or people with paradigm of their own – then it becomes a problem. It becomes difficult to know the fact. When lights of different colours are thrown on an object, it becomes difficult to know the true colour. Then, objectivity becomes causality. Balance gets distorted. And that is a big problem.

Half Century of Internet

On 7 April Internet will turn 50. Credit for the initial concept that developed into the World Wide Web is typically given to Leonard Kleinrock. In 1961, he wrote about ARPANET, the predecessor of the Internet, in a paper entitled “Information Flow in Large Communication Nets.” Kleinrock, along with other innnovators such as J.C.R. Licklider, the first director of the Information Processing Technology Office (IPTO), provided the backbone for the ubiquitous stream of emails, media, Facebook postings and tweets that are now shared online every day.

The communication world has undergone a drastic change in the last half a century. As communication became instant and scale became global- it impacted social interaction at several levels and ways- never before experienced by mankind. Social media made the situation more complex by providing an apparently uber-democratic platform. In the social sphere, we have more ‘kalarab’ (noise) and less substance. As the noise level rises and becomes shriller, substance recedes. To understand the situation through an analogy: watch television debate on any private channel, preferably Republic TV or India TV. You’ll see and hear people animatedly shouting at each other. You’ll probably catch a word or two. But you’ll never get any understanding of the issue on which the debate is on.

A true love story

A mosquito fell in love with a hen. One day they kissed each other.

Hen died of malaria and mosquito died of bird flu.

heart toucing na….

(Courtesy: Social Media)

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The author, a journalist turned media academician lives in Central Odisha town of Dhenkanal. An anthology of his weekly column Window Seat, published in 2018 has been published as a book. Write to him to get a free e-copy.

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