Students of journalism will remember one of the first things taught to them – Free Press is the Fourth Pillar of democracy which keeps the first three pillars on their toes. Newspapers and journalists were instrumental in the Indian freedom struggle, and we’ve had free press in our democracy, if we count some years of exception. In recent times, journalism is getting a bad rap because of allegations of sensationalism, misreporting, biased reporting and stories being planted either out of spite or for money. The rise of social media has also changed the face of journalism, with Twitter being the first source of information whenever a big event happens. Let’s take a look at what the Blogosphere thinks is ailing the Indian media.
In an ideal world, the media is free, fair and accountable. As recent incidents and trends in the media space have shown, this is not the case when it comes to journalism in India. The culture of breaking news and the overlapping of political ideology with reporting has brought down the credibility of the Indian media sharply. Prashanth Bhat writes, “Journalism in India is going through a serious crisis. While crony capitalism, cross-media monopoly and concentration of media ownership is killing the profession from within, reluctance among journalist associations to openly debate allegations of corruption, paid news, breach of ethics and dilution of professional standards is clearly undermining the credibility of news reporters and the mainstream media in the country.”
We’re not being cynical and saying all is lost when it comes to the integrity of Indian media. Journalists have, in the past, exposed huge scams and taken the government, the policemen and other national institutions to task by asking difficult questions. This is the reason that Moin Quazi feels that if the media takes efforts to make some real changes internally, it can regain the lost glory days- “You’ve got to be a bulldog in the journalism business; you mustn’t let go of a story once you’ve sunk your teeth into it. You shouldn’t allow yourself to be bullied. And don’t allow yourself to be bought. In the pursuit of truth and fairness, no price is too high to pay. One should make that extra call, take that extra trip, visit that additional source – then do it all over again until one is truly convinced that the story is as accurate, as fair and as thorough as humanly possible. CP Scott the founder editor of The Guardian, one of the world’s oldest and most respected newspapers laid down a cardinal rule of journalists the world over:”Comment is free but facts are sacred.”
Certain incidents highlight the myopic nature of Indian reporting. For instance, the absolute lack of reportage about the WTO meet makes it loud and clear that real stories fall prey to sensationalism. Biraj Swain says, “Coverage of WTO negotiations and summits is essential because it deconstructs the issues, builds and shapes public opinion (currently our farmers need all of that and more) and provides spine to our politicians to exercise some of it globally. The way mainstream electronic media forced passing of the Juvenile Justice Bill is an apt demonstration of impact of electronic media’s hyperventilation. Perhaps media houses could and should use their might for better reasons and what could be a better reason than our farmers and agriculture.”
One area where journalism should practice extreme discretion is when it comes to communal matters. The level of emotion associated with religion makes balanced reportage mandatory. However, the on ground reality is the complete opposite. According to Sandeep Bhushan, “When it comes to thriving on stereotypes, the spectacle of prime time news television is no different from the make-believe world of Bollywood. Central to this caricature of communities, is the search for “Muslim-looking” and “speaking” guests to aggressively counter the Hindutva trolls-turned-studio guests word for word, rhetoric for rhetoric. An amalgam of sorts of what the Swiss linguist Ferdinand De Saussure calls the “signifier”—the language—and the “signified”—the image the language evokes.”
Gone are the times when the whole family used to sit in front of the TV set to watch the evening news and acquaint themselves with the updates of the day. Nowadays it’s all about debates, breaking news, shouting matches to prove one’s point. No wonder people have lost both faith and interest in the news. Like Subhrangshu Pratim Sarmah, who has boycotted news channels altogether. “There is something more to the murkier side of our TV journalism. If you want to indulge in character assassination, then the channels are there for your aid. They will initiate campaigns and will find out several ‘startling’ about their personal life. If all these do not give them enough TRPs, the evening talk show aka media trial will feature some know-it-all panelists – having no connection with that person, who will offer their lofty suggestions which they expect the police or the government to follow. All this continues for a few days and suddenly that burning issue is nowhere in your television screens to be found. The reason: it completed its objective of vilifying the person’s character and fetched enough TRPs to remain ahead of other channels.”
Where there are pressing issues, there is humour and satire to deal with it. Parody websites have a field day pointing at everything that is wrong with the current situation in the media. And why not, when journalists give them so much fodder to work on! We loved this piece, which makes fun of the (very serious) issue of journalists justifying terror attacks and terrorists just to seem balance, courtesy of The Unreal Times – “Speaking on the occasion, an emotional Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar, one of the organizers of the event, said, “Our work is not appreciated by a large section of the society. We often feel as if the entire world is conspiring against us, and we slip into depression. But our Jihadi journalist brothers and sisters from Indian media houses stand by us every time we are criticized for our work. They are like rays of sunshine amid dark clouds of pessimism.”
On the other hand, India has earned the notorious tag of ‘Asia’s most dangerous country for journalists’, all thanks to the blatant killing of reporters who dare to expose wrongdoing. This fact cries out for stricter laws and better investigation of reporters’ deaths across the country. Nava Thakuria says, “Demands have been raised in India for a special protection law for ‘journalists on duty’ and a national action plan for safety and security of media persons. Recently the media fraternity of Assam demonstrated their resentments against the assaults on scribes across the country. Wearing black bands around their mouths, the scribes from both print and electronic media staged the protest demonstration in front of Guwahati Press Club.”
These blog posts paint a grim picture of Journalism in India, both when it comes to reporting and the fate of journalists. While Indian media has become a many headed beast, it is possible to tame it with discipline, integrity, and strict laws.
Tell us your thoughts about the Journalism in India in the comments section below!