Reporting of the recent Pulwama attack gave us one very disturbing and sad truth about our media which is sinking as low as it could go. While we may not completely agree with what the Pakistani political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, responded to Indian media reports of the event, calling them "side effect of Bollywood" and adding that it was "hazardous to Indian media’s mental health" and mentioning that it "might induce hallucinations and delusions of grandeur", we can certainly say that Indian media appears to have been sold and sinking.
Most of the TV channels, engaged in news coverage, sensationalized the Pulwama attack instead of showing the real story. The screen was bursting with naked patriotism and biased coverage, all baying for the blood of the enemy.
Times Now focused on an ‘us versus them’ (India Vs Pak) narrative by mostly covering what politicians were saying instead of the hard facts of the attack. When the Times of India published a sensationalist headline, people criticised it for “unfairly blaming Pakistan”. The publication had to replace the headline and added an editor’s note at the end saying that its coverage clarified that the terrorist was a member of the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad.
There was hardly any measured coverage of grief; there was only bombastic language and jingoistic fires all on screen. The press forgot its responsibility of fact-checking information and educating its readers and was engaged in simply regurgitating statements and condemnations and encouraging the rhetoric of revenge without realising what does it imply.
Even after the return of captured pilot Abhinandan, all channels focused on how PM Modi and BJP cashed the event for the election. No one talked about the two pilots who lost upcoming their lives in the helicopter crash.
Is Indian media totally irresponsible?
You might still remember how journalists had redacted the death of actress Sridevi by trying to sink in the bath tub. Then, actor Farhan Akhtar had called it, ‘the lowest depth of media’.
The media is considered as the fourth pillar of democracy, and is answerable to none but the common man. However, the greed for TRP, money and favour of the ruling and opposition parties have taken the media to the hell of fake news, twisted news, half baked news, one sided reporting and paid news.
The press deliberately ignores the topics which do not help their TRP go up. They have no value for issues like poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, healthcare, etc.
Recently, the Madras High Court rebuked the media not publishing a rape case because it happened in some remote part of South India. The media wants to highlight issues of relatively lesser importance, or even trivial ones, and diverts attention from the more important ones.
They will not focus on real issues like famers’ suicide. For the media, important topics would be mindless talks and debates on things like Sheena Bora murder case, Aarushi murder case and such other issues. These days, as elections are on the horizon, the media has no time for any issue. Only those issues will be discussed which can raise the TRP, for example Babri Masjid issue.
The news channels have really become ‘pakau’ or boring. Especially Hindi channels have become more like general entertainment channels with melodramatic headlines and taglines. That is the reason many do not watch these channels. As per a research, educated and elite Indians prefer BBC or foreign news agencies to consume news instead of watching Indian news channels.
As per critics of Indian media, the main goal of the media is to divert attention of the people from the real issues facing the masses to non-issues like lives of film stars, petty politics which has gone down to a very low level. Topics like cricket, astrology, babas, reality shows, and highlights of GEC’s content during afternoon rule these Hindi news channels.
Superstitions, biased coverage & entertainment rule the news media:
As per Article 51A (h) of the Constitution, the government and press need to promote scientific thinking. But TV channels are busy in promoting astrology regularly, which is pure superstition. The real role of the media is not only to inform people about events, it should also educate them and combat feudal and backward thinking, like casteism and communalism, and uplift the low intellectual level of the masses. However, the media in the country loves to go down to the low intellectual level of the people and seeks to perpetuate it.
Today, entertainment gets much more coverage than health, education, labour, agriculture and environment put together. For example, the Lakme Fashion Week is covered by more than 500 accredited journalists, but there is hardly any journalist covering farmers’ suicides.
Recently, politician Shashi Tharoor filed a defamation lawsuit against Arnab Goswami for his reportage on the Sunanda Pushkar case. Noted journalist Barkha Dutt said that Goswami has “routinely tarnished journalists and even called for their trial and arrest. I won’t shed a tear for him facing criminal action for his dangerous, communal and vile reportage.”
Arnab Goswami and his channel Republic TV have, once again, come under fire for inflammatory reportage. In the Aligarh Muslim University sedition row, a media crew from Republic TV was accused of making discriminatory statements on air, like calling the students “terrorists”.
Not only Republic TV, Aaj Tak reporting on Sridevi’s death with the slogan “Maut ka bathtub” (bathtub of death) to Times Now creating a sensationalist hashtag #ShameInSydney because of the lost cricket match, the Indian media often colours the news it is reporting.
Sensational reporting can cause communal rights, as if the media gives full vent to popular anger. And to feed the rising emotions of the public, the government may take a wrong action.
As the media is owned by corporate houses which align themselves to political parties of their choices, viewers could imagine what they would get to watch. That is the reason each channel is today called as BJP’s channel or Congress Channel. Journalists have no free conscience. They have to sell their souls to the organizations they work for, else they are free to quit.
The way forward:
If we want to avoid Indian media becoming the carriers of B grade news-entertainment, the government needs to take strong steps and sacrifice its own personal interests for the sake of winning elections. The fourth pillar of democracy cannot be allowed to die. Corporate houses which own channels have a responsibility to not interfere in the true spirit of journalism. The channels must stick to true news, impartial reporting and should avoid any content which may boost TRP but also boosts fake news, superstitions or biased public opinion.
Therefore, it is high time for the media industry to introspect itself and revive the true conscience of journalism if it can, though it is highly unlikely in coming times with general elections on the horizon.