“Trust in Modi was not born out of newspaper headlines or through shining faces on TV. I have given my life, every moment, for the people of this country.”
This is what Prime Minister Narendra Modi said about himself in February when the opposition demanded answers over the Hindenburg report and Gautam Adani.
Perhaps the prime minister’s conceit would contain a modicum of truth if the media had questioned his silence and he had answered. Instead, we have the recent example of both Modi and the media’s silence on Manipur. We have his speech during the Hindenburg crisis, when he told the Lok Sabha, “Will the 80 crore countrymen who get free ration ever trust those making false allegations?”
In a single speech, the PM shook off all demands for accountability.
Importantly, for the last 10 years, ‘Godi media’ anchors have been in the PM’s service, casting journalism in the gutter in the process. Yet the same PM said he owes them nothing. This is the boast of a leader who did not hold a single press conference in nine years, a leader who was not questioned by ‘Godi media’ for nine years.
It’s impossible to take the media out of Modi, and Modi out of the media. These sections of the media remain silent towards him. If they speak, they speak only for him. When a social worker or journalist gets respect in foreign countries, they call it an “anti-India” conspiracy. But the PM gets respect in the same countries, they describe it as India’s name – Modi’s name – ringing across the globe.
The decade of 2014 to 2024 belongs as much to ‘Godi media’ as it does to Modi. These channels have different names but the same content. The packaging is poor, their stories are similar, and they’ve broken many myths in the process.
‘No money’ no longer an excuse
Prior to 2014, we believed TV journalism was haunted by the ghost of no money. News channel owners, who usually weren’t journalists, were running out of funds and the business model was flawed. Everything was done in the hope of gaining TRPs; the alternative was shutting down the channel entirely.
These owners didn’t care about journalism. Even ‘helpless’ owners of established channels would follow this, otherwise they wouldn’t get advertisements. That’s how a myth was created from the market itself for this poor content.
And now, this myth has been busted. The new owners of Big Media are Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani. Adani is launching several news channels this year, Ambani already owns many channels. Given the volume of channels and the money they both have between them, the ghost – a lack of funds – that haunted the media until now must run away.
But why aren’t we seeing the effect of these funds on content? Why aren’t their wealth and business acumen improving the poor state of TV journalism, especially when these expenses are lower than their other businesses? What examples have Ambani and Adani’s channels set in journalism? What have they done that’s new – or even spectacular?
These are my questions, and the answers are simple.
There are two essential and basic conditions for good journalism: courage and questioning. Without courage, you cannot question. Without questions, courage has no meaning.
So, you cannot change the content of ‘Godi media’ with just business skills and money – you need courage and you need to question. Instead, Ambani and Adani join the queue that already includes Aroon Purie, Subhash Chandra, Jagdish Chandra ‘Kaatil’, and Rajat Sharma. A queue where everyone is timid.
This is the biggest change in the mainstream media over the last 10 years. Their content isn’t influenced by the owners, it’s influenced by the ‘unknown owner’ of these owners. We cannot expect these channels to ask questions like The Telegraph. Merely opening a channel doesn’t make one a journalist. The content of these channels tells us about the relationship they have with the Modi government. If journalists protest in Delhi against attacks on their peers, take a look at how many journalists from these channels are in attendance.
I do not consider The Wire, Caravan, Scroll, Newslaundry, Alt News, NewsClick, The News Minute, Boomlive and Article 14 as alternatives to the mainstream media. That line of thinking frees the mainstream media from guilt. These institutions should be seen as individual efforts. Their names should not be brought up during the ‘Godi media’ debate by claiming they are also of this era. Because they aren’t – the government doesn’t give them ads. Corporate ads are rarely available. They aren’t the startups helped by the government.
What we should care about is the media houses that get crores of public money in the form of ads. Why aren’t they practising journalism? When journalism is not possible, then why are India’s richest opening channels?
The two richest industrialists in the world have thrown their money at ‘Godi media’. The inference is there’s a market for it, that it’s good business. But there is no pleasure of making a product from the heart. Let me ask you this: Why didn’t young, educated people from startup incubators think of a media startup? It’s because they know they cannot create free content in the media.
But ‘Godi media’ has developed such a model – it runs in the name of journalism but its product has no connection to journalism.
During the NDTV takeover, Gautam Adani had said India “does not have one single [outlet] to compare to Financial Times or Al Jazeera”. He had said something along the lines that there is no dearth of money for this.
But he doesn’t know journalism isn’t driven by money. Also this is the same Financial Times that Adani demanded to take down a report on his empire’s “offshore funding”. Financial Times declined, saying it stood by its reporting.
Many global media houses are made of such courage. But in India, channel owners buy expensive cars but will not post reporters in different countries. They won’t even send their reporters to other states, let alone abroad. Adani wants to create a global media brand, and Modi would like that too, but look at what happened to Doordarshan. In nearly 10 years of Modi’s India, it’s flush with resources and is actively playing the ‘Godi media’ game. (See here, here, here and here.)
Outliving a purpose
The ‘Godi media’ factory does not produce questions for the government. It manufactures weapons to target those who do ask questions – calling them traitors or terrorists.
But the public is more aware now. Viewership is dropping. People are learning that ‘Godi media’ may position itself as patriotic, but it’s not actually good for the country. Social media accounts are dedicated to monitoring hate speech in the media. The media is a watchdog but the public is watching it instead. The sustained criticism of the media in the Modi decade is unlike any other.
At a glance, the scene seems to be changing. Old faces are switching from one channel to the other, new channels are launching with brand-new faces. But they’re repackaged versions of the same product, all performing the same task. It’s like mafia movies from the golden days of cinema: an old gang leader is eliminated but a new one soon takes his place. The empire continues.
Yet credibility is so low that ministers are giving interviews to social media influencers – a throwback to the time when Modi permitted Akshay Kumar to interview him in 2019. They wouldn’t have to if Adani and Ambani’s channels and anchors had built credibility themselves. Modi clearly needs a new ‘Godi media’.
We should remember the opposition took too long to understand the power wielded by Modi’s media. It finally happened when Rahul Gandhi, during the Bharat Jodo Yatra, established his press conferences as an alternative to these news channels. He challenged journalists saying ‘you cannot ask this question to the PM, but you can ask me’. They did ask him – and he answered.
Of course, ‘Godi media’ all but ignored Rahul’s yatra. Now that the yatra is over, Rahul doesn’t mention ‘Godi media’ as much in his speeches. And while he showed some courage, Congress governments are now giving their ads to these channels, despite their treatment of their leader. Imagine the irony: Modi’s ministers are flocking towards influencers while Congress governments are turning to ‘Godi media’ with ads.
Meanwhile, the end of journalism is being celebrated.