Your Favourite News Channel- A Watchdog Or A Lapdog
Issue 16 | Ocotber 04, 2020
“Journalism should never be prostituted for selfish ends or for the sake of merely earning a livelihood or, worse still, for amassing money.”
- Mahatma Gandhi
For a Republican government system to function as intended, there must be three administrative bodies, 1- Parliament, 2- Administrative bodies, 3- Judiciary body. The absence of any of the three can make a nation crumble. However, not too long-ago did mankind realize that it yearned for a fourth body. A body to carry out an equally significant role- to act as an informative bridge between governing authorities and the general public. The body in question is none other than the media- dubbed as the Fourth Pillar of Democracy.
Democracies around the world understood the importance of the fourth element and did not give its integration a second thought. And India was no different. However, is this pillar still just as strong and independent as it was planned to be, or has it lost its stability over time?
Considering the Indian media, gone are the days when it broadcast concrete news, and when the viewership meant something more than just a burly source of Television Rating Points. We have come a long way from when reportage was given more weightage than opinion and when there was no doling out of communal hate speech, unnecessary headlines and not to mention, fake news.
The Indian media is not doing journalism anymore, and it is fitting to call the debates and discussions held in the newsrooms of the mainstream media houses mere circus stunts. Our broadcast journalism has invented the perfect potion to keep its audience constantly on their toes for some spicy and popcorn-grabbing headlines. But perhaps, we are to be blamed. The majority of the audience is ignorant of the quality of the content it consumes, which is why there is no demand for genuine and authentic news. Someone has rightly said, “A clueless audience is the best audience”, and Indian media houses have been exploiting their viewers for a while now using this unbeaten formula.
These are confusing times, and Indian mainstream media is facing a severe credibility crisis. On the one hand, where journalism clarifies bogus news and disturbing propaganda plaguing social media in some countries. In India, on the flip-side of the coin, the mainstream media circulates delusional content of all sorts, and social media clarifies the issues and lets the cat out of the bag.
For the past few months, there has only been one “news” significant enough to be aired across India- BOLLYWOOD NEWS. Migrant deaths, farmer suicides, COVID- 19 deaths, job losses, absence of data on migrant workers’ deaths, on job losses, and farmer suicides- the mainstream media did not cover any of this. (and there is nothing wrong with this. After all, who needs discussions on the inessential issues of absolutely no national importance.) With one of our ‘top’ broadcast journalists busy making a scene on national live television by hysterically shouting, “Mujhe drug do, drug do, drug do…”, and a reporter declaring, “on consuming meow-meow, the person becomes wretched”; it seems almost impossible to get the derailed Indian media back on track.
This sure is catastrophic, yet there is something more besetting than mainstream Indian media’s insatiable hunger for TRP- Government encroachment!
“Unless you have a free press in your country, there is no need to buy newspapers and there is no need to watch the news because there is no need to listen to the lies! And you already have one real information: You are being deceived by the people you are governed by! This is enough information for you!”
― Mehmet Murat Ildan
With the Bharatiya Janta Party winning the general elections of 2014, Modi has tightened his grip on the media. The situation might seem, on the face of it, to have improved over time, however, the reality is offbeat. India has slipped from 140 in 2019 to 142 position in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index. News channels in India are mostly self-regulated. In the name of policies and standards, mere guidelines are issued which broadcasters must (apparently) abide by.
Our broadcast journalism is cornered, and it has only two paths to choose from-
1. Airing the necessary content critical of authorities/ Not merely dispersing needless tangy news → Lower TRPs → Lower bets for the ad. slots → An eventual blow below the belt from the Government for being critical of its actions → Lesser bets for the ad. slots → Bankruptcy!
2. Not airing the necessary content critical of authorities/ Dispersing needless tangy news → Higher TRPs → Higher bets for the ad. slots → An eventual pat on the back from the Govt. for not being critical of its actions → More bets for the ad. slots → Big money!
This is why most media houses in India focus more on who is smoking what in the film industry than the issues related to national healthcare infrastructure, fuel prices, GDP, MSMEs, and free speech. In other words, they double up as the PR department of the government.
However, Indian broadcast journalism has not always been on its last legs. It has seen better days.
Let us take a trip down memory lane and recall the awful 26/11 coordinated terrorist attacks carried out across Mumbai. Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare, Additional Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamte, and encounter specialist Vijay Salaskar died on their way to Cama Hospital when out of the blue a terrorist duo opened fire at them.
As the families of these heroes, along with the entire nation, were letting their deaths sink in, the Indian media raised its voice against the government for failing to provide the officers with quality equipment. This birthed numerous issues, and this media trial had brought forth that the equipment provided was subpar and that corruption was so deep-rooted in our system that even officers at this level were not immune to it!
Similarly, in Jessica Lal’s case, the son of a Haryana MP had killed Jessica for not serving him liquor in the restaurant where she worked. The case was closed and the accused was acquitted on the grounds of lack of evidence. However, finally, the case was reopened by the collective efforts of the media and the public which led to an eventual conviction of the accused.
Instances like these are a mere drop in the ocean. And hypothetically speaking, there would be no cause to celebrate even if India jumps a few places in the World Press Freedom Index, as the firm institutional problems will continue to haunt modern-day journalism. However, these cases also reveal how our media has played an astounding role as the Fourth Pillar of our democracy in the past and has done a commendable job (which it still can if freed from the clutches of explicit external censorship).