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Imploding Media: Newspersons as News

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By Sidharth Mishra

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in April 2016, during his monthly radio programme, ‘Maan Ki Baat’ had advised print and television media to carry positive stories that inspires the nation. The advice has not been heeded to goes without saying, as media today, especially television, is about anything but positive news.

Sometime in 2011, then leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley while addressing a seminar on the civil society upsurge under Anna Hazare, which was being witnessed then, had a very telling comment to make. Jaitley had said that Anna was making to television because cameras like sad pictures. Prophetic comments indeed!

In another instance Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that journalists should be like a honey bee and not a housefly. Houseflies, he had said, sit in filth and spread it around, whereas bees are productive and also capable of responding with a sting when required. The problem with today’s news is that the journalists are functioning neither as sting bees or houseflies but ‘tamasha makers.’

Among the foremost rules of practice for a journalist which were taught by the conservative school was that a newsperson should never become news; s/he should report the news. A reporter would make a ‘tamasha’ of oneself for news only if the person didn’t have a meaty copy to offer. 

This need to provide objectivity to a story suffered first irreparable damage in the melodramatic personality-oriented coverage of the Kargil war. One wonders why the editors of one channel are calling editor of another channel names today when both are guilty of ferreting out their individual personalities more than the news they ought to be truthfully and objectively broadcasting.

It’s this clash of ‘personalities’ which has led to media wars and the rat race for the now much maligned TRPs. The real challenge for an editor is to back his or her line with such credible reporting that the others lose out or are forced to follow it.

The challenge is not to score high on TRP but broadcast a more credible report. The challenge is whose report would people - common, apolitical people - refer to with greater confidence. And this feedback can never come by raising a storm on social media. 

Coming back to the current scenario, the media houses are in dock and not necessarily for acts of defamatory reporting or seditious writings but other corrupt practices. Media examines with magnifying glasses the violation of codes by other professions but has functioned all this while without a code of ethics for itself. In media industry there are people with varied academic credentials, professional skills and social network, which, in ascending order, decides on the course their respective careers take.

The personnel atmosphere of media industry can only find a similarity probably in the film industry, where too there are no codified work ethics either. Getting a code for media is going to get difficult with each passing day as several editors, as reports and revelations over the years have shown, have business interests including those who pontificate much on transparency and objectivity.

Then who adjudicates whether a decision was editorially principled. An editor’s word for it is not anymore being taken on the face value. A trial by media in these matters certainly cannot be acceptable as it would be manipulated and biased, driven by professional rivalry. This brings us to the situation where the need for a regulator is strongly felt. Will that ever happen! difficult to say; if that doesn’t happen the current situation of implosion would continue. 

(First Published in The Morning Standard, New Delhi) 

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