Kr. Swarn Kishore Singh
In late 1950s & early 1960s, United Kingdom had a Prime Minister whose wife was having an intimate love affair with a member of parliament of UK from the same party to which the Prime Minister belonged - Conservative Party. The affair lasted for around three decades and ended only with the death of the wife of Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. The affair did never become public and this can be considered as a tribute to the integrity, docility of the media then. Sex was discussed openly back then too and the prime minister’s wife almost living-in with a Tory member of parliament would have created some significant furore. This could have even jeopardised the political careers of both the Prime Minister and the MP, but the media desisting from sensationalism and maintaining ethical composure, didn’t find it appropriate to barge into the personal lives of public figures. The politicians also did not sling mud on each other, keeping public scrutiny at bay from autopsying the personal lives of politicians and public figures.
Sadly now we are down the slippery slope and bearing witness to new lows every now and then. The television news channels have been stooping lower with every moment. The trust in the news channels has denigrated to such an extent that people have started believing that these news organisations deliberately mislead them.
When the fundamental objective of a news channel was to transmit news; it has now become a tool for propaganda. News items are sponsored and so are editorials; publishing a news comes with a price and not publishing it has a higher one. The news channels appear to be more of motion advertisement bill boards than an information dispensing medium; imagine a channel which was supposed to expose a politician or a political party for some wrong doings are flaunting their advertisements on air. In this way a strong quid pro quo has been developed between economy of news channels and political economy of the political parties; an ironic balance of propositions.
When the whole television media in the country is owned by few business houses with varied business interests, the mainstream media succumbing to pursuit of generating revenue will ostensibly indulge in misinterpretation, distortion, fabrication and some times even suppression of truth. For instance, let us assume that there is an issue in Jharkhand wherein the tribals are displaced from their habitats without ensuring their rehabilitation. The tribals are displaced as some iron ore mine has been discovered and a company which has received a contract for extraction is the same company which owns a major news channel. The company which has received the contract for extraction is committing cruelty on the tribals by throwing them out while the government downplaying the issue wishes to keep it under the wraps. Can any journalist of that news channel try highlighting the issue of the down trodden tribals risking his monthly paycheque?
Recently when Pakistan government started crackdown over journalists known for criticising the establishment and Pakistan army specifically. Few journalists were arrested in a very brutal manner and some even disappeared. This act of Pakistan Army had a domino effect and the journalists who weren’t even touched started praising Pakistan Army and showed every possible reverence to their chief of army staff. The reverence to Pakistan Army was made synonymous to reverence to their country. Just the way media in Pakistan is regulated and censored by their establishment, mainstream media in India is guided by the rat race of TRPs and viewership.
Independence of media is a myth and anyone claiming agenda driven media as a fresh or new phenomenon is either ignorant or is lying. Biases aren’t new for media, as every media house has an editorial policy, that is why we had red journalism, yellow journalism etc. but the colour now is ugly. We have witnessed columns in national newspapers exalting Indira Gandhi for imposition of Emergency in India and admonishing the opposition leaders as defiant whippersnappers. Popularly Lal Krishna Advani ji had once said, “When Mrs. Gandhi asked the media to bend, they crawled”. But media driven by a political and social agendas has an ostensibly worse face in revenue driven media.
With N.Ram denying to publish a story about Bofors scam in the newspaper, “The Hindu” citing his personal friendship with Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi and Nira Radia planting stories in media with the help of some celebrity journalists; one thing which needs no corroboration is that the ecosystem of media houses has thrown the cardinal principles of journalism to dust. This problem has its origins in the quest of some business houses in turning news business into entertainment business. This has further lead to some serious and alarming change of nomenclatures; the news readers and anchors are calling themselves journalists. And we as a society have developed their persona into cults as they have managed their PR. When the inherent job of a journalist is delivery of news, the viewers are bombarded with prejudiced propaganda. The media is manufacturing news and sometimes even narratives. Every newsreader on TV has its constituents and they have to mould their content to stay relevant in the blind rat race of views and TRPs; while making news and truth, a casualty.
The mainstream media has two species of anchors; one is the type who while succumbing to TRP game try to suppress the real set of facts and fall prey to popular narratives and the other is the ones to who unreasonably try puffing against the wind and try to manufacture a narrative which is nothing but a propaganda. Both of these type of media personnel are dangerous to democracy and to the public order and perception as they have no sense of decency or journalistic ethos. Why can’t this be simply a delivery of clear set of facts ? It is because it is bland and hence no TRP, no viewership and hence no revenue.
The recent mushroom growth of some social media channels claiming to be news channel is more of a threat to business of real news. These social media channels are used as hired guns and some times as just troll handles; this contributes to denigration of media as an organisation. The reliability of a social media news channel hence is a huge question as every other person holding a mike is made to do some very obnoxious things and discuss issues they themselves aren’t aware of. We sadly have a fresh breed of young men and women who wish to call themselves journalists but they don’t know how to write and present, they aren’t even trained to report. They have no sense of propriety, no sense of proportion, no sense of decency and worst of all, no sense of news. Their growth and influence is very frightening as they have an increasing monopoly over the screen time on cell phones of their audience which has exposed people to fake news, biased reporting and sometimes uncensored content. There are no regulations to govern their operation and conduct and it is high time government takes notice of this issue and ensures appropriate regulation of this unbridled and mighty business of social media news or this can turn ugly anytime.
(The author is an advocate and a political and legal analyst)