You can always expect the no-nonsense P Sainath to speak his mind. And when it's on the corporatisation of the media, the growing inequality in the country, the news-reporting on labour and agriculture, and the relationship that Mukesh Ambani shares with Narendra Modi and the Indian media, you can expect the sparks to fly.
Speaking on the occasion of the 22nd Annual Safdar Hashmi Memorial Lecture (video above), Sainath begins with a disclaimer: "What I have to say will put many of you off." He talks about what he calls the most successful surgical strike: "It completely took out the spine of the Indian media while leaving the spleen and other organs completely intact. It didn't have to take out the brain because that had been lobotomised a long time ago. And that was done by corporate owners and this was done by governments. Any vestige of spine vanished in the last 30-40 days."
He mentions a recent panel debate amongst economist Bibek Debroy, Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian, and French economist Thomas Piketty, where Debroy and Subramanian said that they didn't care if people flaunted their private wealth. For Sainath, this is a massive shift in public discourse. "Even in the early '90s, had the economic advisor to the Government of India said that flaunting your wealth wasn't too big of an issue, he would have lost his job the next day. That is how much your universe has shifted."
Citing statistics from an Oxfam report to make his point, Sainath says, "In India, 15 individuals own a greater share of the economy than half the population, 615 million people".
Sainath narrates an anecdote from his first day in journalism, which, he said, was a prophecy of what was to take place in the Indian media landscape over the next few decades. "I saw the business correspondent beat the daylights out of the labour reporter, who promptly went extinct thereafter and hasn't been heard of since."
In the second part of his talk, the founder of the People's Archive of Rural India speaks about the stifling of free speech in India.
"Twenty-seven journalists have been murdered since 1992 and it can be established that they were murdered because of what they wrote." Sainath provides some facts about these murders: "If you look at the 27, not one of them was working in an urban metro. It is impossible to find in those 27 one whole English-speaking, English-writing journalist. It is impossible to find anyone working in corporate media, (an) English-language publication. Many of them were freelancers or stringers."