To commemorate the life of Dileep Padgaonkar, veteran journalist and founding member of Pune International Centre (PIC); PIC and Symbiosis International University organised the first Dileep Padgaonkar memorial lecture on “Responsibilities of the Conventional Media in the Age of Proliferating Social Media” on November 27, 2017. The lecture was delivered the renowned journalist, Rajdeep Sardesai, who shared the dais with Dr Raghunath Mashelkar, former chairman of CSIR; Prof. S.B. Majumdar, Founder and Chairman Symbiosis Society and Prof. Rajane Gupte, Vice Chancellor, SIU.
Recalling the fond memories of PIC’s inception, Prof. Mashelkar reasserted Prof. Padgaonkar’s vision to make PIC an international centre with a global outlook. Prof. Majumdar shared his gratitude towards Mr Padgaonkar’s commendable association with Symbiosis where he chaired the R.K. Laxman chair and delivered thought-provoking lectures across all institutions of SIU.
Sardesai, who had been associated with Padgaonkar since the birth of his journalism career, spoke about his earnest desire in making journalism plural and liberal by rebuilding the Chinese wall between marketing and editing. “The only people I see challenging this, are not mainstream media, but it is those who inhabit smaller websites like Alt News”, Sardesai said. Calling mainstream TV news Ravan School of Journalism with 100 heads propping up on TV screens, he agreed on the inclination of mainstream media on sensationalism and dramatics.
On the role of proliferating social media in our lives, Desai added that he has never been aware of an anti-social element being called a social media. Summing up the lecture, Desai reiterating on the power of samvad (effective communication) in making a difference in the life of people.
Dileep Padgaonkar, eminent journalist and consulting editor of the Times of India, recollects his experiences of being part of the Press during the dark ages of the Emergency period.
Q) Can you recount your experiences as an Indian journalist during the period of Emergency? How did you tackle them?
The declaration of Emergency and the clamping down of the freedom of the press came to us, as it came to everyone else, as a profound shock. Not since India had become independent had we experienced anything as this sort of fascist censorship.
Therefore, there were various ways to deal with the situation. Some newspapers chose the path of defiance. Some other newspapers, including the Times of India, decided that in the larger institutional interest, one should find out other ways to ensure that one should not toe-kneel to the Government.
This called for an enormous amount of discussions within the editorial team. Our reports had to be routinely submitted to the censor and the censor were very often themselves quite clueless about what should be and should be not. So that created an awkward situation.
I chose a completely different way during the Emergency situation. I began to write a number of articles on the situation in Argentina. Why Argentina? Because Argentina was then run by an Authoritarian president Isabel Peron. So I would write about developments in Argentina, but the reader would know that much of what is happening in Argentina was happening also in India.
The censor realized this way of mine after quite some time. And the Editor instructed that I should be asked not to write any more articles on Argentina.
I also remember being listed among several scores of names that were published in the Magazine that was edited by Maneka Gandhi (wife of Sanjay Gandhi). All those names were of the most prominent journalists in the country and they were all referred to as CIA agents without evidence of any kind.
Later on, some of the journalists, including me, were often trailed by police in civic interest who belong to the Intelligence Bureau.
My last memory of the emergency was a meeting that Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister, had convened at her residence. Many journalists asked Mrs. Gandhi several questions regarding the emergency, I kept absolutely quite.
When Mrs. Gandhi asked me “Why are you silent?”, I said “Madam, I am silent simply because you have enforced press censorship and you have therefore not revealed the correct report of what is happening on ground.”
She said, to the astonishment of a lot of people, “You are right. People now tell me what they think I need to hear and not what I would like to hear and I am very glad that you asked me the question.”
When I went back to the office, I had mentioned this conversation to my editor Mr. Girilal Jain who was a far more experienced journalist than me. He had a bright smile on his face and said “What do you think she is going to do?” I said, “She was being so explicit about the censorship so she might consider lifting the censorship, or at least relaxing it.”
So he said to me “To know what she might do, wait for another hour or so.”
And sure enough, about half an hour later, a report done PTI about Mrs. Gandhi’s meeting with the journalists was published and both my question and the Prime Minister’s answer had been deleted from the report.
So the censorship continued and it lasted until the Emergency lasted.
Q) What was the foreign media’s reaction on the censorship imposed in India during the Emergency?
The foreign media had to operate under the same censorship rules. The foreign newspapers and broadcasting organizations operating from Delhi had to adhere to the censorship. So certainly, media in the democratic world was uniformly hostile to the emergency.
The newspapers and the magazines which carried articles on the emergency had to be rooted through the censor’s office. And the censor either tore off the pages or put black ink so that it was deleted.
Q) What was the constant ‘charcha’ about the emergency among the journalists in India?
Many journalists, after the initial shock, adjusted to the new situation and made sure that they didn’t get into trouble with the censors. But there were also very prominent journalists who, because of their defiant attitude towards the emergency, were sent to jail. That included one of our own journalists with the TOI.
So, by and large, there these categories of journalists during the emergency, some of them went to the extreme of being sycophantic and wrote in praise of emergency and in praise of Indira Gandhi. But some were defiant and paid for their defiance during the period.
Q) If the Allahabad High Court’s verdict had been in favour of Mrs. Indira Gandhi, would the Emergency still have been imposed?
I have no easy answer for that because the talk about imposing emergency started well before the Allahabad Court’s verdict. It started in the context of JP Narayan’s movement and the overall mood of the govt. was that people like JP Narayan were dangerous, for he had gone to the extent of commanding the police and the army not to obey the orders of the government.
And the fear therefore was that there shouldn’t be a constitutional breakdown in the country. It is in that context that I think that, there was already some soft talk of amending the constitution or at least using those provisions in the Constitution which could have brought effectively the Emergency into execution.
Q) What do you feel is the spirit of the Indian media 40 years after the Emergency, has the spirit of journalism been subject to change due to infiltrations like TRPs and sensationalism?
In the past 40 years, the Indian media landscape has changed absolutely beyond recognition.
During the period of Emergency, the number of newspapers, TV channels and radio stations were far too small compared to today’s scenario. Further, there has also been a spectacular growth in the social media sphere which wasn’t even in existence during the Emergency.
These are some of the plus points. The minus points are that, the competition between the different newspapers and TV channels are very high. Mainly, they resort to the trend towards increasing sensationalism, their desperate search for TRP and for higher circulation, the complicity of certain journalists with politicians and bureaucrats.
Adding to that, there is this overall phenomenon of dumbing down of news and opinion. They ignore the news to be reported on or discussed at length because there is a tendency of going forward with reporting celebrity driven news stories.
“Things are changing like never before,” said rural marketing expert Pradeep Lokhande.
“Today, urban markets are all about product upgradation,” the Rural Relations CEO explained, addressing students at Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication. “But growth lies in the markets of rural India. And that’s why no company can choose to ignore the rural markets.”
There was a time, he said, when “video on wheels” represented the premier tool for reaching out to village consumers. As many would have seen in Bollywood movies, brand promoters would roll into town early in the day and start spreading word about an evening show. In the meantime, marketers would utilise time by distributing free samples wherever viable or holding demonstrations of electronic goods and other products. “This technique doesn’t really work now,” Lokhande said. “Most of the families own TV sets, which means they have access to movies, shows and advertisements too.”
Lokhande’s company is one of India’s largest rural-oriented organisations, with a presence in 11 states and ongoing work in more than 60,000 villages. Drawing upon his 19 years of engagement in village marketing and social engineering projects, he offered students five ways of reaching out to rural India for successful brand positioning and product visibility.
“One of the interesting aspects I have noticed,” he said, “is that the point of contact in villages is usually the secondary school children. They become the opinion leaders. Hence, it is advisable for marketers and journalists to reach out to these children at first.”
Apart from conventional techniques, such as outdoor advertising, wall paintings and POP (Point of purchase), Lokhande stressed the importance of bazaar days and fairs in rural India. “There are 25,000 fairs every year in this country,” he pointed out. “More than a crore attend these fairs. I think this is the best location or period to launch a product.”
Reporting for this article took place at “Opening the Indian mind,” a SIMClairvoyance seminar held Dec. 5, at SIMC. SIMClairvoyance is a forum where professionals share their experiences, insights and foresights with the students.