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Interview with Kalpana Sharma and Harsh Mander

Interview with Kalpana Sharma and Harsh Mander

Media and Marginalised

With major news channels and newspapers not having their offices in several parts of India how can we expect a journalist to voice the concerns of the marginalized?

Kalpana: We cannot expect a journalist to report without any representation. The definition of a nation as defined by the media is limited to where it is located. Just because they are located in Delhi, the stories that are easily accessible become national. So the hierarchy of news becomes basically what is easily accessible rather than what is important.

With government providing no protection to the journalists whatsoever, how can we expect them to cover stories that are both sidelined and dangerous?

Kalpana: It is our job as a journalist to report and we have to accept it. India still is a democracy. There are several journalists who are reporting from the areas of conflict. Whether it is Manipur or Kashmir the threats are real.  It is a hazardous profession. The journalists have to be trained and they must learn to strategize their reporting.

Harsh: Today the state is also not defending the voices. There is lack of protection and the state is also openly bullying the voices. As far as social media is concerned, it opens up a wide public discourse and in that space we look like a minority which is often threatened and I think that is really a problem.

What do you feel about the ownership of media?

Kalpana: In India there is both private and government-owned media.  There has always been some kind of direct and indirect control of the media by both the industrialists and the government. Today, however, media has diversified and has brought in media houses that own more than one entity. This is more dangerous because in this way the ownership gets concentrated in fewer and fewer hands and we have no law on what is called cross media ownership. With the absence of such a law and depending on the politics of ownership there will only remain a few who will dictate the content. Also the whole concept of hire and fire threatens the employment of a journalist. With no job security, a journalist is discouraged to report on a story that would buck the system too much as one could be fired. So a lot of journalists become confrontalists not by choice but because they are compelled to.

Harsh: I feel apart from the entities that own the media it is also the class character and nature of the media that sidelines certain issues. I am not really sure why this happens but I think it is to do with the business of media.

In such a scenario do you see the future of freedom of press through social/new media?

Harsh: I am not really sure. I thought a lot about getting into social media but resisted it because I find it very simplistic. Debates cannot happen through 140 characters nor can there be a solution through 140 characters. It is also a space that is very dominated by a certain kind of right wing political ideology.

Kalpana: I don’t think it is that simple because even new media doesn’t function in a vacuum. It is not necessarily a democratic space and a lot of websites are an extension of the already established media houses.

Harsh: I remember when one of my columns was published online, by morning there were over 270 comments with 269 being negative. I am amazed at what happens to my wikipedia page. I signed a petition against the death penalty of Kasab and that became like my life’s biggest achievement. For months I would keep getting hate mails about that. But again, I am sure that it does not represent the reality or the readership because when I go out in the real world, I do believe that there is a majority with a certain liberal perspective.

What are your thoughts about this year’s Hyderabad Literary Fest?

Kalpana: It is excellent that you have something going on like this. We need more such kind of things where conversations like these can be held. It is very encouraging to see the quality of the questions asked and the whole tone of questioning. It is very encouraging and reinforces the point that Harsh has been making about majority of the people being reasonable and not fanatics.

Harsh: I feel that smaller festivals work out better. I have done 3-4 smaller festivals this year and I have enjoyed them more. I like the space and the atmosphere in Hyderabad where most importantly young people can have conversations.

-Gaura Naithani

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