DO Media in India need Check and Control  ?

By N.S.Venkataraman

A few decades back when Mrs. Indira Gandhi imposed national emergency, applied restriction on free speech and severely curbed the press freedom, it caused considerable unhappiness around the country. Of course, most section of media after some initial protest ( highly popular political journal Shankar’s Weekly stopped publication ), submitted themselves to censorship , bowed to the pressure of the government and largely toed the government’s line.

However, when emergency was lifted and press freedom was restored, huge enthusiasm was generated about the prospects of the media sector.

With nearly unchecked media freedom, several business houses and investors saw huge investment opportunities in the media business and it resulted in the launching of new newspapers and journals/magazines and number of new television channels in several languages , that considerably increased the competition in media business . Though political parties were publishing some newspapers and journals in the pre emergency days, political parties also expanded their presence in the media in a bigger way, particularly in visual media, to propagate their policies and boost the party’s image. In the process, the ownership of even some well established newspapers and journals went under the control of business houses partly or fully by acquisition of equity shares. Such business houses / investors have no particular understanding or commitment to the ethos of journalism and the principles governing it. Obviously, their objective is commercial and they are profit oriented.

Now , the story is complete , with business houses and investors and political parties having a near strangle hold over the Indian media.

The increasing presence of business houses and political parties in the media business have resulted in considerably shifting the focus of media from the earlier standards of responsible reporting, avoidance of use of objectionable language and counter productive sensationalism, fairness in editing ,staying away from controversies and publishing scholarly articles. Obviously, the media’s focus has now shifted decisively , with eye solely on enlarging readership/viewership ,increasing profits and rate of returns and meeting the vested interests of the owning business houses and politicians , with the editors largely losing their independence and being forced to act as per the dictates and guidance of the owners. The net result is that most section of media these days, both print and visual, do not anymore look like unbiased neutral entities.

In the earlier days, media personnel at different levels including editors and the reporters were known for adopting a simple life style and avoidance of the craze for self publicity and had enormous pride and commitment to the lofty and noble objectives of the profession of journalism, which made their observations and writings fair with malice for none. Now, many discerning observers have developed doubt whether such mindset with similar intensity continue to remain with same level of conviction amongst media personnel.

The recent “Me too” campaign with regard to some senior editors and journalists more than clearly reveal the extent of changed climate in the media houses in recent years. Many people believe that what have been revealed by the “ Me too” campaign so far is only the tip of the iceberg.

In such circumstances, public criticism is mounting about the role of media in negatively influencing the course of events in the country. It is disturbing to see many media personnel giving an impression that they know all and they appear to be going over board in their sharp observations and comments about individuals and events. These days, in most cases, one can guess what kind of observations and remarks will appear in a particular media even before reading them. Several newspapers , journals and television channels do not even seem to take care anymore to conceal where their preference stands.

In all societies all over the world, good and bad events take place , fair and obnoxious remarks are made by individuals from time to time. Horrible incidents like murder, rape , molestation, burglary also take place in every country, though the frequency may differ from one country to the other. Occurrence of such undesirable incidents in a densely populated country like India , with significant population remaining below poverty line and prevalence of illiteracy in some quarters continuing, are not entirely surprising. One would expect that the legitimate objective of the media should be oriented towards strengthening the basic value system in the country.

If the media would excessively focus on highlighting the negatives under the impression that such stories would create sensation and enlarge the readership/viewership, then such media may be seen in poor light and run the risk of being deemed as negative force.

Today, the Indian media seem to be under the impression that the politicians and film stars are the only section that need to be largely focused. When a film star comment about economic growth on which he may not have much knowledge or a politician deploring investments in some scientific activity on which he has no particular expertise, nevertheless media give their views huge attention and publicity and discuss their views in depth.

Media ignores the fact that there are many knowledgeable people in India with considerable understanding and wisdom ,who should be the persons on whose thoughts the media should highlight. Unfortunately, they get little space.

Sadly, only controversies attract media attention. Do the media editors think that the politicians and film stars are the be all and end all of Indian society, who deserve so much of space and attention ?

Further, the excessive focus on sex related matter and frequent publication of photographs of half dressed women seem to be becoming a part of policy frame work for the media editors , who seem to think that this would be the easy way of increasing readership / viewership. Even newspapers and journals with glorious historical standing and reputation also seem to be falling prey to such undesirable business strategies.

When media constantly and almost entirely highlight the negatives, it seriously erodes the morale of the country men and create a bad and disturbing impression about the overall scenario. Certainly, Indian society is not as sick as it is made to look by media.

While there are monitoring agencies like Press Council of India to ensure that media would not go astray, the effectiveness of such institutions leave much to be desired. Are we not hearing frequently about the paid news these days ? Do the watchdogs investigate this ?

Voices are being heard too frequently these days wondering whether Indian media suffer from excessive freedom and lack of much needed journalistic discipline and self restraint ,that is doing more harm than good to the larger interests of the country, apart from the image of media.

Is there not a case for applying greater check and control in the functioning style of Indian media?


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