PALAGUMMI SAINATH, the Magsaysay Award winning rural affairs editor of The Hindu, spoke to Sunil Sethi, the books editor of NDTV, over the weekend, on why he chose to do what he chose to do: report from India’s remotest villages on the poor and the marginalised:
“In 1983-84, we had a very large drought in India. I was a very conventionally trained reporter… news agencies, newspapers, etc. I went out to cover it.
“The power of what I experienced… I found that the kind of journalism we practiced was completely inadequate to express that power. Because we end up always giving the final word to figures of authority.
“‘The collector said’, ‘the prime minister said’, although the collector may be a bloke who came there just 15 days ago. We privilege that collector’s statement over that of a farmer who has tilled the land there for 45 years. That’s stupid, that’s bad journalism.
“That’s when I came to the conclusion that conventional journalism is about the service of power. Journalism has two streams, journalism and stenography. We (in conventional journalism) really function as stenographers to the powerful.
“Again, in 1991, hunger deaths surfaced in independent india for the first time. This was just 90 kms from the nation’s richest city. We all wrote stories, won awards, but I was thoroughly ashamed. Had we reported better, those children could have been alive.
“Indian media is very good at covering events, not processes… It is a paradox of the Indian media that good talent has come in at a time of great bankruptcy of media leadership. The dumbing down process is also looking at how to dumb down journalists. We take out them out of school/ college but the fundamanetal feature is the disconnect between mass media and mass reality.”