P. Sainath, one of the most-awarded Indian journalist who has spent his life documenting rural India and now Founder-Editor or People’s Archive of Rural India speaks on the evolution of digital news media and its pitfalls.
When asked how technology is a disrupter of media, especially news media, Sainath says technology at times works to deepen the existing divisions in society, and it is not an equal disruptor as it may have different impacts on different entities.
Sainath points to the fact that the virtual community is not singular but has class, gender and caste profiles as is the case in the real world. He cautioned against romanticizing the digital media and compartmentalizing it as a unique medium when corporates like Mukesh Ambani own major networks, and digital platforms such as Firstpost.com.
Sainath cautions against imagining the digital space as one without the usual pitfalls of data theft and corporate monopoly — 72 % of the profit out of search engines goes to Google and 68% of profit of auctions to Ebay. When the biggest monopolies of the world are in the digital sphere like the Apple and Google, there seems to be no reason to believe that the media in the digital space shall be any better than traditional monopolies. He criticises the digital companies for fighting dirty to retain their monopolies.
‘The internet gives you a voice’, but does not guarantee that anybody is listening to you,’ says Sainath in response to the question of media and technology helping the dissemination and democratisation of information.
To him, every medium has a romantic phase followed by its evolution into a form not imagined by the creators. He cites the example of Raymond William’s statement that ‘Radio will liberate human kind,’ but was later used by Adolf Hitler as a tool to spread his propaganda prior to his invasion of Czechoslovakia. Television which was introduced in India as an educational instrument has hardly any educational element now. Therefore, he advises not to romanticise media as it already is straying away from the original objective for which it was devised.
To the question if Indian law has to be updated to match the evolutions in digital space – he says that law, which is above any individual or entity, should be in accordance to the issues under scrutiny. He explains that a blanket policy is not the solution, rather each case has its own challenges and specifics.
Sainath ends with — Digital access is one among the several needs of rural India but it is not independent of other developmental needs. Digital coverage shall add to the richness of human life when needs such as education and housing are fulfilled.