Monday, January 30, 2006

Put on your Thinking Cap

Journalism in India : Has it come of Age?

India Today was doing it for years. The Times of India has made it just easier for us. They have got the page 3 stuff to the front page. Is Indian journalism losing its direction?

I think, the newspapers have started losing their relevance for the purpose of news, slowly with the idiot box entering almost every household today. Gone are those days, when parents insisted kids to read newspapers and editorials. Now, we get news and more, 24hrs a day, live. In a way I would say that this change is inevitable and in this fast paced life, getting time to read newspapers is a luxury. In any case many of us with access to internet do end up reading the epapers. I don’t think that the print media would die; nevertheless, its losing is teeth to shape the minds of the people with the entry of satellite television.

It is also a myth that the English language media dominates the print media scene. Infact, statistics suggests that the vernacular newspapers sell much more in India than the English papers. But I can’t vouch for their quality. Most of these papers cater to the intellect of the not so literate, with flashy images and juicy stories of the thefts in the neighborhood and petty political stories. But the better part is that these vernacular papers also deliver local news more relevant to the readers who are really not concerned what is happening in Eastern Europe.

If I would say one singular aspect which is destroying Indian journalism, it is their insatiable greed to sensationalize issues, grab attention and sell more prints or have more TRP ratings. There is a deluge of TV news channels on the offer and not one can be relied upon. Where is the integrity in reporting? Truthful reporting, journalistic ethics are things of past. Journalism and media is being used by the politicians as means of propaganda, a means to attack the opposition and their views and a legal method to bring disrepute to anyone and everyone, in the name of freedom and democracy. A political party owning a news channel gives it a license to lie in the name of journalism. The overall interest of the nation and its people are the last priority.

Godra riots is one of the worst examples of how irresponsible journalism and sensationalisation of issues can exacerbate already burning issues. Sure there were killings. But I feel that, most of the killings were fuelled by the sensationalized reports of the media. If a hundred hindus were killed, a sensational media and print reports fuelled the vengeance of the people, who were misinformed by distorted reporting, and who went on kill a thousand muslims and it was a cycle until sense prevailed in all, by which time it was too late. I am sure the situation could have been controlled by responsible reporting.

Just to compare, I was amazed at the way the western media handled the WTC bombings on 9/11. There were no specific figures of causality given out, until it was officially announced by the US Govt. There was no criticism of the then present day administration for laxity and the media stood by the nation and the Govt at the hour of crisis than serving their commercial or parochial political interests.

The trivialization of issues is another cause of concern. The 24hrs news channels are just not finding the quality programs to air and they end up reporting the most mundane and trivial issues. Over reporting has become the order of the day. A simple news like Dravid hitting a century in the recent Indo – Pak cricket test series, was given so much importance and time slot that journalists were going ga-ga over it, and every half an hour interviews of the Dravid’s parents, friends and fans were being flashed. I couldn’t see so much attention given to even the English cricket team by their media when they won the Ashes. Amitabh Bachan’s illness grabbed so much of airtime that it appeared that nothing else is happening in this country of 1000 million people. Common Guys, give us a break. We are not interested much in Bolivian crisis or Western Sahara. But neither does Big B’s illness matter much. Even the print media is not far from these crimes. A sex survey in Indian cities hogged the limelight of the cover story of India Today. Majority of the Indians are happy, claimed another weekly. It’s a matter of wonder, how these weeklies give out such conclusive reports made on surveys of less than 3000 people in such a large country like India!! Statistics says, your body is in room temperature, if you dip one hand in boiling water and other one in ice cold water. Would it be true? No wonder, none of the exit polls are even close to the real outcome of any elections. And when their exit poll flops, they praise the Indian voter and power of Indian democracy.

Off late, one thing that has caught up is sting journalism. Ends justify means, they say. But I can already smell rat. Most of these stings are politically motivated. As long as it exposes corruption, it is good. I would like to throw a question to the speaker of the parliament. If majority of the MPs involved in the money for question episode, were from the ruling party, would they have been expelled with such speed? But I still have my appreciation for this stern action. The guilty deserves to go out. Minor exposes like bribery in the customs check point and police stations does put a caution in the minds of the people, enlightens the public of what is going on and forces the authorities in power to be less corrupt or atleast be careful not to get caught! But my worry is that, is sting journalism done to expose the corrupt alone with mere social interests? I feel no. There is an underlying commercial interest of increased TRP ratings and ad revenues. What if the politician caught on camera, offers more money than the advertisements and TRP ratings would rake in for the channel? How many have already done that and saved themselves the ignominy of such an expose? What is the guarantee that these stings are not used to fill the coffers of individuals who carry out such operations? Its time to think.

Social values in a resurgent India took a beating first when schools were commercialized and were to begun to run on profit motives than with altruistic values. The final death blow is being delivered day after day, by the print and the media which is turning more and more commercial and profit oriented. Is it correct to hand over the power to shape the minds of the people, especially children in impressionable age who are the future of the nation, to such irresponsible media?

I feel that FDI inflow in the media sector would solve the problem partially. The monopoly must be killed and when foreign media houses with deep pockets and quality programs would come in, the local media would be forced to prune up and dish out good stuff. But the question remains, would the media deliver what the people don’t want? And if they are delivering trivias, may be it is time to take a relook at ourselves. Which programs or news we enjoy more, the PM’s visit to US or the Kareena’s Kiss episode?? When there are contradictions, check your premises, says Ayn Rand!


Shashank said...

HEy hey wht are u talkin about ? i still read the newspapers , for movie updates ofcourse...hehhe he.
Ok Jokes Apart, i think Page 3 actually showed the exact flaws in todays media.
I mean for publicity , power ppl always want to appear in Page 3 articles and headlines.
This may b the 'motivation' for editors to bring in more of the stuff.
Its sad to see wht has happnd to media these days. Earlier I used to love to read TheTimesOfIndia. But these days i dont just get a simple 20 something pages of Times, i get Mumbai times, some city plus,mulund plus and something like that pages with it. I mean the newspaper has become so much devoid of actual news that it only publihes ANYTHING new not anything useful or worth knowing.
A comprehensive blog doc.

Shashank said...

BTW i think Page 3 actually showed the exact flaws in todays media
in the above commment was meant to point to Page 3 the movie (konkana sen, atul kulkarni...ring any bells)

icyblue said...

Long read buddy!!

The Soul Doctor said...

@ shashank

Very well said. Nowadays many of us read the supplements first before the main paper. TOI is the best example of degeneration of newspapers to putrid consumeristic journalism.

Ad revenues and raddi sales are used for pushing up the number of prints. I wonder where this would stop.

@ Icy Blue...

yeah I agree.....It turned out to be a bit longer post. But I am glad you read it:)

Barath said...

Karthik...nice post!

Think from an editors perspective as well if the readrship asks for BigB's health status...the paper is forced to it all boils down to the readership quality...! from my stand point...write whatever you want in a news paper...its up to me pick what i want and read what i want...but make sure you have the right information...donot transfer made-up thoughts!

good one to read!

Santosh S Kumar said...

just read like 3-4 posts and i see that you complain.. may be i think you should stop complaining and do something about it...btw, nice post.. but there are couple of points i do not agree with you...

L>T said...

Hi! just stumbled on to your blog.
Interesting, I think the mainsteam media is the same the world over.

About 9/11. You are right about it being a off limit subject in some ways. But, that was the exception. I remember my husband coming into the room & saying, "you won't believe this but a plane just hit one of the Twin Towers in new York. We watched it unfold live on T.V. as the other planes hit. & the towers came down, etc... Everyone was so shocked. The differance was we had outside influence to blame.

When a hurricane wiped out New Orleans in the state of Louisiana. It was a Media circus w/ everybody blaming everyone else for w/they did or didn't do.

The media is not trustworthy in some things because they are biased & afraid to not be politically correct.
One must always read between the lines, when listening to the Media & try not to let our own prejudices keep us from the truth.

Anand said...

I think your point about the point about the populist tilt that Indian journalism has taken is accurate.
However, do you really believe that mere influx of foreign investement is the answer? If you look at the daily news as presented by a major news outlet, say CNN in the US, it is every bit as populist and sensational as the Indian media. Actually, in many respects it is even more about style than substance, that its Indian counterpart. Its my opinion, that this is more due to the fact that journalism is now a "Big Business". Its now longer about information, its about entertainment. A "news channel" for example cannot survive unless it has high ratings. Low ratings mean low ad revenues, translating to a non-profitable business. It is my humble opinion that the inflow of FDI would only make matters worst. You would see a situation as in the US, where all news outlets are owned by 3-4 major conglomerates. So all news is commoditized. The news for the most part has less to do with what is "true" and more to do with what most people "want to hear".

Having said that, the flip side of the issue is the fact that it is the general public that ultimately dictates content. We are shown, only what as a public we want to see. So if you want the truth, you will ulitmately get it..if enough people want it. Thats the nature of a free market!!.

But I certainly think that the fourth estate is no less co-opted or inept in the west. While the western media stood by its government after 9/11, and questioned nothing. It continued to question nothing even when the country was dragged into a series of murky wars. Isn't a questioning and skeptical media better for the national interest in such situations? It is my opinion that the press can only perform its function if it is to some extent atleast shileded from the day to day market forces associated with a purely capitalist economy. Of course thats never really going to happen is it? :)

The Soul Doctor said...

Hey Guys

there seems to be a problem in this comment box. Six comments seems to have dissappeared

I am trying to republish them.

The Soul Doctor said...

Hey Guys

there seems to be a problem in this comment box. Six comments seems to have dissappeared

I am trying to republish them.

The Soul Doctor said...

chenni pages


sensationalism seems to be the only mantra of journalism these ....also competition from the electronic media has forced such a trend ....on print media..


The Soul Doctor said...

@ Barath

Welcome back after a long haitus.

You and me are educated to pick up what we want, know what could be the truth, read in between the lines and so on. But in a democracy like india, where the voting population consists of a chunk of not so literates, then is it fair to influence their mind and opinion, by writing whatever one wants? These are the same people who would cast votes based on biased opinions and cooked up stories, the ultimate consequencces of which would be borne by you and me too!! Thats my whole point.

@ Santosh

I do agree that I complain. But I honestly try to do something whenever possible. May be I am not writing it publicly.

If you have any point you wish to make, please do so. I welcome it with an open mind.

Thanks for stopping by.:)

@ Uma

competition from electronic media is threatening to wipe out the reason why news papers existed in the first place, although it may not wipe out the newspapers itself!!

its all about survival of the fittest.

The Soul Doctor said...

@ L>T

I did notice the differance what you are talking about, when I used to watch CNN or BBC during katrina. You are absolutely correct about media being afraid of being politically incorrect.

But how many of us do you have are endowed with the wisdom to read in between the lines? Many a times, even when presented with the truth, we wish to hear what we feel is the truth!!

Nowadays its more of Perception journalism........present what people generally percieve is the truth, and not the truth!!

The Soul Doctor said...

@ Anand

Welcome back:)

You have made very pertinant points about the influx FDI. All evils that you have enumerated would be an eventual byproduct of such a move. Nevertheless, it will always increase competition and in am democracy like india, it will always not be possible to serve bussiness interests alone. As you have further said, the skceptical nature of out media unlike the west, would ensure that all sorts of opinions are aired.

Also, more money from FDI would ensure quality programing, better salaries ensuring that more qualified people are recruited and trained. You must have a look at the sahara india news channels (i think there are 8 - 10 of them, one for each state). Even the journalists who appear on screen are so poor in talent, language, the way they go about investigating issues are pathetic. Its a free to air channel and viewed by most rural areas!!

Having a skceptical media is fine. I agree that it contributes to political awareness and puts a caution. But the media must draw a line when it comes to airing issues of national security and importance. Most of the times, the best method to solve a issue of military nature is not always the one that has the consensus or time need not be necessarily available to take decisions. For example, charging of the BJP politicians and George Fernandes for procurring ammunitions at far higher prices and not following proper procedure for procurement of arms during kargil war. If we had followed the red tape route in such issues, we would surely have not regained kargil at all!! we took fifteen years to sign the AJT contract with the britishers. In such cases, tarnishing images of people irrationally is not the way a matured media would behave.

finally, in a capitalistic society, having a unbiased and balanced media is a myth but in a communistic/dictatorial regime its a dream

L>T said...

I don't think I've ever read such insight on the Media. You say it so well.

What's interesting to me is the similarities(?) between your media & ours.

You are so right about people not reading between the lines. I have always been amazed at the naive nature of most people. But, I've been a cynic my whole life & a truth seeker. continually, I've had to search my own soul. :)

I have to say to anand that the comment about the western media not opposing the 'murky wars' made me think.
The Democratic party, (opposition of the Republicans in power) do criticize copiously, they stop short of acually opposing. The Republican party of course does not criticize it (as far as i see). Any reporting having to do w/war (besides reporting causulties) is politically motivated.
ARRGH! how i hate politics!

soul doctor, loved the last comment about capitalists & communists. Am writting it down. Do I give you credit for it?

The Soul Doctor said...


Thanks for the compliments.:) I am glad.

I request you must read my next blog on petrodollars and iraq war and assess how much the american public (incl you )is informed about it.

I get to see the Al Jazeera channel here where I stay. Many times the news about the same item, is diametrically opposite in what is presented by CNN or BBC and the Al Jazeera. We are left to wonder what is the actual truth.

Hitler believed that it is perfectly correct to make an opinion form in the public minds by organised propaganda. I feel that, the present day politicians aint no better!!


yes. you can give me credit. That line about myth and dream is perfectly original.:)

Thanks for your valued comments.:)

L>T said...

Bring it on!
But, you must know, I mean it when I say I hate politics. I don't belong to any political party.
No religious affliation. I am a humanist, NOT religious.

Barath said...

Precisely my point!

Credibility is what am talking abt...truth! no perception!

I guess you agree with the articvle I wrote on what I tried to explain

L>T said...

HI! waiting for the new post to comment on. :)

The Soul Doctor said...

@ Barath

I completely agree with you on this. I had read that article before and i had put my comments on it too.


THe next article is up. Sorry, I was on a short holiday and hence the delay. Would like to see your comments on that!!