An Indian view on history, current affairs and politics

March 27, 2023

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.