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From Hijacking To Complete Takeover: The Consequences Of The Privatisation Of The Media

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We live in times when rotting journalism is banging its drums as hard as possible, not with the intention of letting people listen but that of making them deaf, to the extent of ruining their rational hearing abilities. The lecture which P. Sainath delivered on the 1st Neelabh Mishra Memorial Lecture ‘Freedom of the Purse: How corporatisation of the media harms the Indian democracy’ attempts to engage not with the hard banging journalists or anchors; instead, it maps the knots of the problem, which is much more structural.

The initial part of the lecture plots the media as the ideological arm of the corporate world – a quotable quote, as Nivedita Menon, the Chair of the day termed it. The fundamental flaw lies in the disjunction between the mass media and mass reality. The media houses are politically free but have been sabotaged by the market. Corporate hijacking has slowly evolved into a corporate takeover. The notional wealth of most of the media houses is being trapped into the market. Major privatisation in this country has taken place in the last 25 years and the media houses have remained prominently quiet on it, as they themselves have been the biggest beneficiary of it. Journalism has been trivialised to a revenue stream.

Neither the monopolisation of the media nor the corporate takeover of the media is as important as the media itself developing as a corporate giant. The media houses today do not see a difference between working as a PR in a company or as a journalist. For Sainath, the media has become the worst part of our democracy due to the exclusionist role it has succumbed to. He quotes Alex Carey, an Australian Scholar who says, “The twentieth century has been characterized by three developments of great political importance: the growth of democracy, the growth of corporate power, and the growth of corporate propaganda as a means of protecting corporate power against democracy.” The fine lines between media, business and politics have completely eradicated with a revolving door erected between them. One could be revolving and playing in every sector, making no distinction in any of the fields and rather diluting them into interlocking ownerships and new convergence.

A significant reference was made to the pre-political independence era of India due to the culmination of some of initial and best works of journalism. Sainath referred to the spirit of the political leaders of the 20th century who, through their inter-disciplinary approach and their affirmative action, transcended multi-dispensary fields of work. Bhagat Singh, at the age of 21, was writing and circulating newspapers in four different languages. Singh, Gandhi and Ambedkar were all great journalists. India has been commemoratory due to its injunction with the masses. It has seen times when BG Tilak, another journalist of the freedom struggle, when persecuted under sedition for inflammatory speeches, was supported by the textile workers who came on streets in protest. They came for the person who once spoke for them and on that day, could not speak. However, today it is hard to even see any solidarity and camaraderie in the journalist fraternity itself.

“It is not an emergency censorship but a trend of corporatisation being institutionalised in the media.” – Sainath quoted the lines from Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s speech in the 50th Jubilee of the Assam Tribune.

In this single line, the person next likely to become Chief Justice of India has distinctly noted the crux of the matter. In this situation, what does the newspaper have to do with news? There are two forms of journalism which exist today, one is journalism and the prominent one is stenography, that too stabilized by the corporate. Mukesh Ambani, who is the 19th richest person in the world, owns the maximum of media houses in India. Ambani, in a single year from 2017 to 2018, added $16.9 billion, from $23.2 billion to $40.1 billion to his wealth. There are 23 billionaires in India who have made to the Forbes list, while India ranks 131 out of 188 countries in the Human Development Index. In the World Press Freedom Index, India ranks 138, just one spot above Pakistan, out of almost 180 countries. For Sainath, the danger is at the most critical stage as it is the time in history when the ownership concentration is the highest.

The internet is amongst one of those technologies that humanity is finding to be liberating and proliferating today. Sainath is in support of the internet but cautions us to be very skeptic about it and secondly alarms us not to romanticise it. Digital monopolies, he believes, are the greatest; they are owners of our data and they are trafficking and selling it. Sainath terms these digital monopolies as ‘human data traffickers’. This is also to bring attention to the resistance which is resisting state monopolies while accepting private monopolies.

Gauri Lankesh’s death hadn’t quite left the memories of the people when on the eve of Eid, we experienced the death of another great journalist, Shujaat Bukhari. These are great losses to journalism, in particular, and democracy, in general. They are dead because they posited challenging journalism, working in small towns in regional languages, covering crime, business and politics. These journalists are more vulnerable than the mainstream English journalists sitting in their comfortable houses and also, safeguarded due to their social backgrounds.

There is another problem. Working journalists who produce magazines, pamphlets and editorial columns are undervalued as progressive rationalist people critical about the government. The fact that Narendra Dabholkar, Govind Pansare and MM Kalburgi were primarily journalists is neither mentioned nor accepted by the ‘journalists’. This is a double killing of journalists.

The 1st Neelabh Mishra Memorial Lecture was conducted on the 58th birthday of Neelabh Mishra, a veteran journalist who believed in establishing journalism in the true spirit of the ethics of the masses and rural India. He died due to liver failure on February 24 this year. I believe this was the best way to celebrate a life of a passionate journalist. P. Sainath’s lecture and the event, all in all, would have been most inspiring for young students, scholars and journalists. I am among those young students who are not only inspired but are thankful for being engaged in such critical and expansive body of thoughts which will always give light the fire in our thoughts as well.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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