The LexGaze Weekly - COVER STORY

An unprecedented crisis: Our journalism adrift

Mr Pranjal Poddar

Oct 04, 2020

Issue 16

While signs of the Indian media’s inclination towards sensation over sense have been doing the rounds for a couple of years now, this year has cemented the belief that the very ethos of journalism is under severe threat in the world’s largest democracy.

In the race for higher TRPs, news channels have shunned journalism ethics aside in the blink in an eye and this move has been equally supported by viewers who prefer politically charged news over neutral reporting. Freedom of the press in India has been reduced to a myth due to the political allegiance of media owners and lack of regulatory safeguards against political parties in this sector. The problem has also not been helped by the rise in popularity of news anchors who act as the face of news channels and favour entertainment and sensationalism over unbiased information in their debates and primetime shows.

In June 2020, the death of Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput rocked the entire nation and has changed the entire landscape of social media and television media to an extent that no one would have imagined. What was reported as a case of suicide by the Mumbai police has turned into a conspiracy which has been blown out of proportions by certain media outlets and sparked a clear representation of aggressive journalism.

The coverage of Sushant Singh Rajput’s case is probably the aptest corroboration of how low Indian news outlets have stooped when it comes to ethical reporting. After the case was transferred from Mumbai Police to the CBI, the late actor’s girlfriend has come under the scanner and prominent news channels have left no stone unturned in declaring her guilty to fit their narrative while the investigation still goes on. What started as a justice campaign for the late actor has taken an ugly turn and the conversation has now moved to the film industry’s fancy for recreational drugs and a prominent actress’ vengeance against almost everyone in the fraternity.

What’s been more problematic is the fact that other issues of national importance have been given close to zero coverage. According to the Broadcast Audience Research Council, India’s TV channels have given more airtime to the Rajput case than the country’s surging COVID-19 caseload, a plane crash, and top political stories like farmer suicides, the crash of GDP, and the highest unemployment rate in years.

Even now, farmer protests across the country due to the recent agricultural bills and the unspeakable gangrape and death of a 20-year-old girl in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, haven’t been able to dissuade these channels from their quest for reporting headlines that get them the highest TRPs.

The political climate of India has been tense than ever. While news channels have the option to ease this tension with responsible reporting and ethical journalism, they choose to ignore the repercussions and encourage news that spews hatred and aids in advocating political agendas.

With the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, news executives of major media outlets have tried to promote everything that the government proposed without even a shudder of criticism or questioning. It’s no secret that the central government has made it difficult for independent media outlets to conduct their reporting and curbs any news that puts the government and its policies in a bad light, which adds to the alarming thought that India’s constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech is under attack.

As Indian journalism faces its worst crisis, we can only hope that the next generation of journalists finds better role models.