An Indian view on history, current affairs and politics

February 26, 2017

The sensational stories of Indian Media

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Media is often hailed as the fourth pillar of democracy. The pillar expected to play a constructive role in strengthening democratic values. If you’re a student of Indian history, you’d know a lot of Indian publications played a great role in social upliftment and freedom struggle. However, long gone are the days of reformers, thinkers and idealists heading publications with social welfare and awareness as guiding principals. Now a days media is owned by big businesses, corporate houses, politicians and shady characters. It’s the only pillar of democracy that is mostly run by private businesses and yet expected to adhere to ideals of a neutral, fair and unbiased view on issues concerning society in general and country in particular. Going by what Indian media represents today, there shouldn’t be any doubt, it has begun to rot from the inside. Profits and selfish leanings have taken priority over ideals and overall good of society.

Another unique thing about media is that unlike other private businesses where increasing competition results in better products for the consumer, Increase in competition in media results in lowering of standards. At least that’s what Indian media has proven. In the mad race for more viewership/TRPs, Media resorts to sensationalism and twisted, manufactured news. Print media doesn’t need to bother about TRPs and yet they’ve specific editorial lines that ensures a particular news is covered more or suppressed. A phenomenon called paid news is endemic and affects media across the board. It was earlier used only by businesses but the growing reach has ensured all sorts of clients are available to buy news from media houses.

Media has become glamorized. News anchors have become more important than news. Views are presented as news. Bytes, counter bytes and high decibel debate constitute majority content on news channel. News has become overly depressing as negative news gets more TRPs. Random individuals are presented as subject matter experts and forced to squabble their way through their 10 mins of fame. Managing/Executive editors present news because that gives them chance of being famous and they peddle views that are certainly not neutral. Factually incorrect and irresponsible reporting is rampant. After all there is no law governing news reporting. One can get away with reporting preposterous stuff as long as they can flash a 10 second correction or a 14th page errata. Kargil war was India’s first televised war. I’m sure government’s view in allowing reporters to embed with army was to present India’s view and let the nation know how its brave soldiers are fighting. Instead of soldiers Brakha Dutt leeched all the glory. For the kind of reporting we saw during 26/11, few journalists would have gone to jail in certain other countries. When confronted with the charge, Rajdeep Sardesi of CNN-IBN said “government should have kept us out of that area.” Remember he is one of those editors who vociferously opposes any government directive on media and talks of media’s self control.

Radia tapes thoroughly exposed big shots of Indian media indulging in shady deals for business houses as well as political parties. Recently the Jindal group trapped a top news channel in a counter sting when the latter was trying to negotiate a 100 crore advertising deal in return for suppressing news showing Jindal group’s complicity in coal scam. No wonder these so called journalists and editors own properties and assets over tens of crores, if not more. It seems the glutton just doesn’t stop at money and glory. Just look at how many journalists, editors are in Rajya Sabha or government appointed committees or commissions. How many have received Padma awards. How many often end up on the invite list of government sponsored foreign tours or get a Lutyens bunglow. The chance to wine and dine with high and mighty. The perks of being a media personality is endless these days, if one is open to compromise.

There is a dearth of actual on the ground reporting. Social issues, positive news all get neglected because editors sitting in their cabins find it easy to conjure up programs that can get them high visibility just by getting a bunch of individuals together and pitting them against each other. Stories are no longer discovered by news channels. They’re merely taken up when sufficient public attention has already been raised. The single news, round the clock, hysterical reporting can confuse an unsuspecting if India really is a country of billion people with so many other issues that can be reported? Think for a moment, did rapes not happen before the notorious Delhi gang rape incident? But the media only started covering it after the protests and now that they’ve started, they’ve completely lost the sense of balance in reporting. They’ve reported it as if entire Indian media is suffering from collective obsessive compulsive disorder. There are equally important issues of human trafficking, drugs, farmer suicides and a lot more that are completely getting neglected because they wouldn’t attract TRPs.

Strangely these editors and journalists end up in events hosted by their own channels and double up as activists and intellectuals in the hope of getting awards. They talk of high morals and champion causes that make them celebrities. Recent case of Tehelka sex scandal exposed how the holier than thou media intellectuals did things in private that they outraged about in public. Equally shocking was the response of other media personalities who tried to protect Tejpal by questioning the victim. Omerta code is really strong in this business. That people can be lynched just by media trial was glaring in Asaram’s case. I’m no supporter of him, but the way he has been reported in media, leaves little room for doubt that he’s guilty. For those who think media trials do not affect a case should ponder for a second. A recent supreme court judgement confirming hanging of an individual reads his case was rarest of rare and fit for capital punishment because his crime shook the collective conscience of the nation. Who told what the collective conscience of the nation was?

Recently during the IPL betting controversy, a leading Hindi newspaper decided to cash in on the idea of betting. They published a report on how people were betting money on the number of dead bodies that arrived for cremation per hour in Varanasi ghats. It was sensational enough for the DM to order a probe. It turned out that the reporter colluded with few people to manufacture this news. A leading news channel, while flashing news of Hyderabad blasts, during initial hours, mentioned 5 bomb blasts even though actual number was 2. Many channels flashed the name of suspect as Vikas while the actual name was Waqaas.

There are unending instances of incompetence and glaring bias in India media. Maybe PTI, the statutory body meant for overseeing press, needs punitive powers. Laws are certainly needed to regulate media because the argument of self regulation isn’t working with media. Their bodies like BAI, BEA and EG are acting as self serving labor unions more interested in preserving self than regulation.

  • MaverickSpirit

    It’s a pity to see the state of MSM in India. Social Media comes up as a refreshing change acting as MSM watchdog and discriminating facts from misleads. Wonder if there exists an effective way to bring the MSM back to where it ought to be!

  • Sethu

    The media is thoroughly corrupt and are only acting as instrument to peddle propaganda for vested interests

  • Harini

    media in India today is different from journalism. Media houses are run by corporates who are obviously only driven by profit maximisation. They will hence sell whatever the mass wants to buy. A good objective piece of journalism is not entertainment, hence not worthy of media attention as there is no mass base for objective journalism. The crux of the problem is in educating the people to realise what is right and wrong, what is good and what is bad. If they demand the right form of journalism, if they demand objective news, eventually the supply will sway in that direction as these Media houses want to cater to the masses.

  • c.g.venkatesan

    All the rhetoric about the freedom and right and constitution provision should be given a halt. No one can deny that media today is not working according to the values and principles and this is damaging our country. The freedom of speech given to media by the democracy should not be used against the democracy itself. There can never be a strict demarcation line for which news media should focus on and which news it should avoid. Therefore we need a more pragmatic approach to the problem avoiding all the rhetoric’s. PTI has taken some sensible steps by giving full chance to media to have a self introspection and thus avoid any deterioration to fundamental rights. Its time for media to show some reciprocity and stop digging their own grave.

  • Er. Sunil Sinha

    Very good article. Certainly me and mostly all of Indians except the media guys who are responsible for the press/media to be in this position today would agree with the article. The corrrective actions to be taken with a democratic approach for Media to be more socially responsible. According to me after 6 decades we have reached to this state and in case if we continue and try a democratic approach for the correction then i would say in a matter of 10 yrs it could be weird than how it is now. I think the general people would prefer a harsher way than a lenient educative approach which will not happen and all of our past experience says it all.

  • Zuveria Anjum

    In current definition/trend I do not think/see the media house is
    doing any thing wrong because this is so-called competitive era
    where every one is in rat race, where majority is defining and
    dictating own term and condition irrespective whether it is
    rational/ethical or not. where capitalism playing autocratic role,
    we just experienced a discourse on poverty parameter, commission
    defining number to bring down poverty number,of course on dash board
    of government it will reflect that country has less poor person but
    in fact there is more poverty,is it ethical approach? Sir, I respect
    your concern, obviously you raised very serious point. We lost the
    actual sense of freedom and we defined it wrongly. There is nothing
    like a freedom which has no boundary. A massive reform is required
    with adequate understanding,with correct sense,with depth analysis.

    • Chintan

      So you don’t think media is doing anything wrong in paid news, sensationalism and biased lies??

  • Abner

    I am an NRI and I tuned out off TOI and HT along time ago after their sensational reporting of news (that had to do mostly with bollywood and cricket anyways). Its a shame we have the most amount of 24/7 cable news channels but none to the same caliber as BBC, CNN, CBC, Deutchewelle, and Al Jazeera.

    • db

      yes. same here. i had stopped toi and other main stream media long time back. it require change in media.

  • Abhishek Mishra

    IT’s not the media to be blamed but it’s we and specially the so called psudo-secular Indian as we would like to see only what we wanted normally. I remember the days when son of Mrs. Indira Gandhi died in plane crash. News was reported on all India radio but my father was not ready to accept it till was not reported on BBC. That explained how think of our media from early times. Similarly today we don’t think of Indian media we only see it as soap opera or reality show.If we want to have any thing that is credibility of media we must wait. It will take time as our media is run by business man who needed profit to run there business. It needed control by people. How many of us had reported about wrong media reporting to the agencies and even govt. must have a control on media the way it control any agencies of it’s own i.e., with full autonomy and it must be constitutional body.

    • Paras Pant

      absolutely correct, the current kings of Indian media are bmoney minded hypocrites, we need change.

      • db

        yes along with government, it require to change in media.

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