The Abyss of Indian Media: Myths and Reality

 

Author: Parveen Bhardwaj (Author is an Aerospace Engineer and currently working with Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses)

Author’s Profile

 

With flourishing growth of India and largest democracy in world, one of the greatest achievements is its vibrant media. Right from the era of independence, where power of ink was recognized more than bullet, media role was seen as stature to bind people together for a common agenda. When the Ghadar party was organised in Amenca, Lala Hardayal started publication of the journal ‘Ghadar’. Within one year, millions of copies of this journal were published in Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi and English and sent to India and to all parts of the world[1]·  This outreach not only inspired Indians to embroil together for freedom struggle but also able to reach untouched mass of people. Weather its print media or electronic media we cannot underlay the fact that they have significant power to uproar voice of common man. From Delhi rape case protest to various corruption movements, media were not only able to push government to stand still, but also able to reach common man for sake of awareness.

But the question today is that do media realize the power they have? Do they realize their responsibility and the fact that they might end up misguiding and misreporting a vital issue which might have larger consequences? Do they realize their limitations? Most importantly are they misusing their freedom? Looking a broader aspect of current media scenario the answers are ostensibly negative. India has more than 70,000 newspapers and over 690 satellite channels (more than 80 are news channels) and is the biggest newspaper market in the world – over 100 million copies sold each day[2]. Therefore, under such a stringent competition professionalism is on stake. Media houses are looking for reporters with minimum wages which indeed ends up deprived quality of news. More than journalism as profession, it has deprived to business minded occupation these days.  But it’s eminent to understand that the media is not an ordinary business that deals with commodities, it deals with ideas.

Cartoon on meadia

(Courtesy: lifesacomicstrip.blogspot.com)

Ethics and Accuracy?

Outreach of media in couple of decades in India is unquestionable. From the agenda of corruption to the lax in law, media have certainly able to make people and government rethink before reaching conclusion. But the face of media in recent time is not encouraging anymore.  There are number of incidents which have certainly raised the question on the ethics of media coverage in current scenario. In one of the blog the incident was explained as “A few years ago, there was a new TV channel which exposed a sex racket run by a Government school teacher in Delhi.  It aired a sting operation and an interview of the alleged victim.  This led to a widespread outrage and protesters damaged vehicles and clashed with police.  They even entered her school and assaulted her even ripping off her clothes. The teacher was immediately suspended and charges for immoral trafficking were framed.  Later it was found that the victim was actually an aspiring journalist and she had faked the entire sting operation.  It was also found that the teacher was innocent but by that time, the damage was done.  I would rate this incident as the all time low in the history of Indian media.”[3] Then there was case of arresting Zee News reporters for attempted to blackmail Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) to the tune of Rs. 100 crore[4]. Then there was Coalgate scam which was misrepresented to the people by staking government and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as sole involve in corruption. I happened to read the official report of CAG which clearly says that government has “LOSS” of 1.2 lakh crore and “IF” 155 blocks was auctioned “LOSS” might be minimal. Nowhere it was reported that government have utilized money from stake holders. According to Manmohan Singh the blocks was given without auction to certain areas such as power generation and Steal companies such as TATA, Jindals etc which run Indian economy on high scale to formulate jobs and energy need of India. They are vital pillars of Indian economy. If it was done by auction they might have to pay 10 times the nominal price and foreign investors have comparatively higher investment capability then Indian companies, which according to me is fair enough to an extend in limelight of the broader picture.

In my opinion Indian media is relatively new with reference to other international media. Their immatureness is sometimes reflected in their coverage of sensitive issues like international relation, border issues and national security. One of such incident was happened in 2008, when a group of terrorist attack hotel Taj in which Indian as well as foreign nationals, were killed, leaving India, and the world, shocked by the audacity of the attack. Media did full coverage of incident streaming live the ground situation. After attack in one of press conference chief of Navy Staff burst on media for creating cordon in security situation and also accused media for staking NSG commando life on risk by giving terrorist information of all possible route from which NSG were entering . In one of the report it was written “Media briefings were conducted by different agencies and political leaders giving a confused picture of the situation and the State response while giving away crucial information to the terrorists”[5].

During the briefing while higher authorities were still struggling to release hostages, media reported it as act from Pakistan without any evidence putting government under international pressure. Same situation happened in January when 2 Indian soldiers were badly mutilated and decapitated. While army still was investigating the situation media within 2 hours of incident reported that it was Pakistani soldiers who crossed LoC and killed both of them. Media kept high pressure on Army by aggressive coverage and sensitizing common viewers all over the world, hence not giving enough time to army for in depth investigation. The sensationalism means that the Indian Army’s initial raid, which actually escalated tensions along the LoC. Media should be careful not to over-hype incidents that can derail the peace process and put the perpetually strained relations between the countries under more pressure.

All these incidents force us to rethink and question the ethics of journalism in current scenario. While readers must always be skeptical of the material that they are presented, the onus is also on writers to be accountable for what they publish, as that material is now available to larger, more widespread audiences than ever before.

What is Scrutinized and what is ignored?

Overhype and aggressive coverage is the new phenomenon of selling news these days, as it increases Target Rating Point (TRP) giving more business to media houses. Every news story resembles a Tehelka like expose- corruption, sex and violence and there is always a doctored videotape. An angry dowry-seeking saas, a monkey smoking, marriage on skype, almost 50hr of live coverage of a child falling in borewell gets more screen time than Manmohan Singh[6]. While all other critical issues are left out which indeed might necessitate more significant spotlight.

In of the editorial in The Hindu by Amartya Sen critically analyzing the issue said  “There tends to be fulsome coverage in the news media of the lifestyles of the fortunate, and little notice of the concerns of the less fortunate. To refer to three of many unfortunate facts (the list can be quite long): (1) India has the highest percentage of undernourished children in the entire world, measured in terms of the standard criteria; (2) India spends a far lower percentage of its GNP than China on government-provided health care and has a much lower life expectancy; and (3) India’s average rank among South Asian countries — India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan — in the standard social indicators, varying from life expectancy and immunisation to infant mortality and girls’ schooling, has dropped over the last twenty years from being second-best to second-worst (even as India has surged ahead in terms of GNP per capita). The problem here does not, of course, originate in the media, for it is social division that feeds this bias in coverage. But the media can play a more constructive part in keeping the reality of India persistently in the view of the public.”[7]

We barely debate on international issues and Indian foreign policies, such as India’s stand in Middle East and on Arab Spring, increasing violence in Syria, Indus river water conflict with Pakistan, China’s dam on Brahmaputra River, current political churn in Pakistan and implication to India etc and many other policies for uplifting common people in country.

Redefining Fundamentals

It’s time for Indian media to breakout the common storyline like bollywood movies and comprehensively debate on issues which have significant effect directly or indirectly on people. There should be a sense of responsibility, hence a journalist must carefully align their loyalties and reach the premier stage of moral development. If such tasks are accomplished, journalists will earn the respect of their audience, colleagues, sources and themselves.

As media critic Walter Lippmann famously said in (his 1920 collection of essays) Liberty and the News, “There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the devil”, hence a journalist should be unbiased and cover truth (and only truth). He should avoid misleading headlines that appear to show guilt because all readers may simply view the headline and make an assumption about the article and not read it in its entirety[8]. He should act independently and should not be influenced by politicians and bigger business houses. If we obambulate ten different news channels we might end up ten different story of same news, hence a journalist should be transparent to avoid conflict of interest. I guess what is lacking in journalist today is not being sensitive towards interviewee and not respecting his/her dignity, therefore to form unbiased opinion its important be good listener rather than imposing your opinion.  The media can and we have seen by experience that they can greatly help in the functioning of Indian democracy and the search for a “better route to progress including all the people — and not just the more fortunate part of Indian society”[9]

I always avoid listening of news or reading news paper in morning. We should not be negative towards progress of our country as we are made to believe and projected by media. There are, and will be, positive growth of country for which we should always be optimistic. So next time you sit in front of that Idiot box or read news paper please apply your fundamentals and do a unbiased objective analysis before forming opinion.

 


[1] Role of Press in India’s Struggle for Freedom available at (http://www.aicc.org.in/new/role-of-press.php)

[2] Why are India’s media under fire? Available at (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-16524711)

[3] Is Indian media misusing freedom (http://gthorvey.blogspot.in/2010/07/is-indian-media-misusing-its-freedom.html)

[6] Indian Television dead by Vikrant Kelkar available at (http://www.itsnotyellow.com/indian-television-dead)

[7] “The glory and the blemishes of the Indian news media by AMARTYA SEN, January 7, 2011 available at (http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-glory-and-the-blemishes-of-the-indian-news-media/article2781128.ece)

[8] Five fundamentals of journalism ethics available at (http://dupreyethics.blogspot.in/)

[9] Ibid.

 

 

Post By Mr. Parveen Bhardwaj (6 Posts)

Author is an Aerospace Engineer and currently working with Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses.

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