Time and time again our Electronic Media shows itself up to be immature, lacking in imagination and interested only in inciting political rivalries or tackling insignificant issues. How else do you explain three days of tireless breaking news on what xyz had to say about ‘Swamy versus Rahul’ or Sharukkh /Aamir Khan on ‘intolerance’ or some known / unknown politician’s view of the ‘cow’ for his 3minutes of fame- And then when they do decide to actually give us ‘news’ they go overboard as they did with the latest ‘Paris attacks’. Did they have to subject us to such a relentless barrage of repetitive clips over and over again? Sad though it was, it mercifully stopped the embarrassing ‘Modi in the UK’ hyperbole surfeit with inane interviews of gushing British Indians and exaggerated claims. One channel went so far as to even say ‘Modi rules ‘Britannia’. Really! As for their in- person ‘reporting’ from wherever they are -within or without- less said about it the better .
It more often than not made you cringe with embarrassment and also made you glaringly aware that English is indeed a foreign language. A stark contrast indeed to the sombre, calm and responsible reporting of the foreign channels. A training course in language, diction and presentation is highly recommended before these reporters are let loose on an unsuspecting audience.
If the main task of a responsible media is primarily to inform and educate then the job of any news channel would surely be to keep people abreast of the News. Wouldn’t it? The operative words here being ‘inform’ and ‘educate’. Yet our highly excitable and almost hysterical newscasters don’t just stick to bringing the news to you as it happens but are experts in making value judgements about what has happened and may happen. . They probably believe it falls under the umbrella of ‘educate’. With half baked knowledge of matters they become analysts, critics and forecasters. Without compunction or hesitation using innuendos for facts they pass judgements on everyone and everybody and go on merrily from topic to topic pitting one against the other for days on end without so much as a break. And then having had a field day ruining reputations or blowing up non issues-Should ‘Peter Mukherji taken to Delhi for CBI questioning’ be even making the news 24/7 let alone headlines?- equally suddenly, drops them without reason or an apology. So much so that sudden Media driven controversies and the hysteria that follows have become a part of our staple diet. But enough is enough.
A vibrant media it has been repeatedly emphasized is one of the main pillars that prop up any flourishing Democracy. While that may well be true of a mature nation with a general point agenda, it is not necessarily so for a nascent country that is caught up in its own diversity. Unfortunately while our electorate has shown a maturity beyond its years our technology driven media has failed us on many counts. And so educative have they been in the recent Aamir Khan controversy that the actor has had to have police protection.
There are at last count seventy seven 24/7 news channels in India. Imagine the impact of a story carried by 77 channels repeatedly over a span of three days. Will it or will it not influence the vast majority of people tuned in? Let alone those watching, what about the rumour mongering that it would engender among people who have not been privy to the actual telecasts? The localised communal clashes, the various lynchings and the beef story –all very sensitive issues- are recent cases in point where repeated telecasts of certain unfortunate acts went viral causing even more damage.
There have been clashes earlier and there have been lynchings previously too and more than half the country’s states have had a ban on beef for longer than one can care to remember. But while it is well within their right to highlight them, instead of ham handedly and gleefully going at it hammer and tongs in the way they have, couldn’t they have shown some restrain while doing so? With social media being such an integral part of our information-sourcing shouldn’t these channels have taken extra care to see how they project their breaking news? Especially in a country where ‘mobocracy’ is the norm rather than the rule.
Contained in the preamble of The Broadcasting Content Complaint Council (BCCC) Self Regulatory Guidelines of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation for non-news channels and current affairs television channels is an introduction on what the Supreme Court believes is the impact, significance and importance of television in the modern world. In its landmark judgment on “airwaves”, it said – “Most people obtain the bulk of their information on matters of contemporary interest from the broadcasting medium. Television is unique in a way in which it intrudes into our homes…It has tremendous appeal and influence over millions of people. Television is shaping the food habits, cultural values, social mores and what not of the society in a manner no other medium has done so far…..”
The guidelines then further go on to say ‘Broadcasters are seized of the importance and the impact of broadcast media in the lives of Indian citizens….Today broadcasters in India have a duty not only to communicate but also to inspire, empower, embolden, encourage and include all
members of Indian society. This responsibility must be discharged with full commitment to preserving, promoting and projecting the diversity of Indian culture. (http://www.ibfindia.com/sites/default/files/Guidelines-Term%20of%20broadcas%20changes.pdf)
This then is a vote for a positive, responsible and accountable television media.
But unfortunately it is also here that our 24/7 News channels fall short. Do they ‘inspire, empower, embolden or encourage’ .I think not. But do they disparage, insult or defame? The answer is a resounding yes. Nobody and nothing is sacred to our newscasters which is perhaps as it should be if they are to be impartial and unbiased but sadly it is very evident that they are working to a pre-determined script which has no bearing on the actual truth .All they are concerned with is the amount of noise they make- (check out any Arnab Goswami programme). Shouting matches, inane debates, discussions without substance and uncivilised verbal onslaughts are today the hallmarks of these 24/7 News channels which often only generate hostility and animosity .And hence the negativity that they promote is astounding. It also does not do the ‘idea of a unified India’ any good.
The last two paras in Mr M.A.Mughal’s article ‘Mass media and its influence on Society’ a few years ago sums it all up-
‘The media has a huge impact on society in shaping the public opinion of the masses. They can form or modify the public opinion in different ways depending of what is the objective. For example, Pakistani media influenced the public opinion against the Taliban in Swat by repeated telecast of a video clip showing whipping of a woman by a Taliban.
Before that the public opinion over the military action against the Taliban in Swat was divided, but repeated telecast of this short video clip changed the public opinion over night in favour of the government to take action. Other ways to influence are with polls and trends, especially in political campaigns. The candidates that can pay for more TV and media exposure have more influence on public opinion and thus can receive more votes…’ (http://thedailyjournalist.com/pen-and-pad/mass-media-and-its-influence-on-society/)
Thus if not contained our electronic media will be one of the main protagonists in the ruin of our country as we know it. It is a frightening thought.
But is anyone listening? Certainly not our media barons or for that matter our political masters.
They choose not to.
By Sreelata Menon
Image Source: 1234