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On the Yellow Press in India

What’s playing out on the news television are phony, hyperventilated coverage and headlines that are inventing theories and false ideas. I sit in the TV room and think to myself how another story had grown into a national pastime. The next day, hundreds of people start writing to/for national and international websites, newspapers and blogs because they had thought that 33% reservation for women was the heart of the issue – it was all that the national media screened on TV, when it was much more than that. There is a lot that’s wrong with Indian Journalism today, and a recent case just highlighted it. They are in search of sensational news every minute and when it is not available, they try to make every small matter sensational, including those that are spread on WhatsApp. Often very little research is done before publishing an article as can be seen with an incident that happened in Nagaland months ago. They tossed the rest of the essential news as to why this was all happening. A story like this will always appear intrinsically outrageous to anyone because women’s rights is a touchy subject. A story like this is also coupled with revulsions and prejudices. “Angry Mobs go on Rampage in Nagaland, Set State EC Office on Fire,” a news channel chose as its headline on its website. It did not matter that the Press Trust of India report, from which the particular piece of report was taken, had not made any mention of the burning of the State Election Commission Office. Slides were run that the Deputy Commissioner Office in Kohima and Longleng, as well as the Chief Minister’s residence was burnt down by ‘mobs’. These were reports based on unconfirmed social media posts. Why not something more accurate like, “Nagaland run amok as government breach Article 371 (A)”?

The way the media portrayed the state and put imprecise news just went on to show that these news channels and newspapers have a cluster of tots behind sleek desks and macbooks, who claim to be ‘journalists’. We all get the fact, that in a fiercely competitive journalism, sensational-style reporting is a guaranteed way of absorbing the public. But is such journalism, especially one that respects no boundaries, desirable or justified? Sensationalism isn’t always a bad thing, because it can help create awareness and promote campaigns on issues that are not attractive, but are important public causes. But one superseding conclusion on how sensationalism impacts news is that it distorts the news.  Indian reporting can sometimes be tremendously good. However, the country’s reporting is characterised by an enormous heterogeneity, and sometimes serious inaccuracies received through widespread circulation. It is hard to have the assurance that when I open the newspaper tomorrow, there will be news that are accurate and unbiased. If Yellow Journalism has provided our era with a quiver full of proven insults, it has given us much more besides. Indeed, it has substantially shaped the press, for these Yellow journalists were nothing if not innovators. They gave us the modern newspaper—advertising-supported, rich with graphics and photographs and lively writing, catering to the people, competitive, aspiring to ever-greater success in the marketplace. But to be sure, some of this inheritance feels lamentable. Because many in our country have no clue about the shady forces that murk behind most of the media houses, we will walk you through what they all mean.

              One moral responsibility of the media houses is to be unbiased in a country where the media signifies the democracy as a fourth pillar. A lot of Indian publications played a major role in the freedom struggle. The reason why yellow journalism exists is because in a country with a billion population, it is impossible to let everyone agree on an opinion and reach to a conclusion. A large number of the media houses are owned by the members of a party or the other, which further questions the credibility of these journalists. In a rush to present “breaking news” and circulate the sponsored idea instead of the essential news, yellow journalism is gradually destroying the country. They are clearly marring the spirit of national integration. The blurring of fact and fiction, hyperbole and sensationalism, an overemphasis on the negative, the undermining of society’s essential institutions and perhaps most chilling of all, the notion of journalism as mere product – they are rapidly increasing in private TV channels, newspapers and magazines that aim at making it big by tarnishing others. Some leading media channels, TVs, newspapers, etc. may have deliberately resorted to do the same to remain ahead. The work of the media is to report the issue and not to articulate judgments, that too on an open stage and transforming a basic reporting into a criticism and analytical crusade. More than announcing a murder story, the media appears to be keener on discovering shocking individual points of interest that may help them give more TRPs and hits. The rich can take cover behind their high dividers yet, what about the poor?

Objectivity: Myth or Reality?

Objectivity is the pursuit of truth. Generally, objectivity means the state or quality of being true even outside of a subject’s individual biases, interpretations, feelings, and imaginings. Journalists often claim that their own biases and the pressures from advertisers and media owners do not affect their work because of their professional norm of ‘objectivity’. Journalistic objectivity has two components. The first is ‘Depersonalisation’ which means that journalists should not overtly express their own views, evaluations, or beliefs. The second is ‘Balance’ which involves presenting the views of representatives of both sides of a controversy without favouring one side. To me, a great deal of what makes journalism good is entwined with authentic journalistic objectivity, as opposed to the various flavors of faux objectivity. Genuine objectivity should remain the Indian journalistic standard, but that perhaps is unlikely. Journalistic objectivity must act as a genuine effort to be an honest broker when it comes to news. That means playing it straight without favoring one side when the facts are in dispute, regardless of your own views and preferences. Objectivity also means not trying to create the illusion of fairness by letting advocates pretend in your journalism that there is a debate about the facts when the weight of truth is clear. Journalistic objectivity is an effort to discern a practical truth, not an abstract, perfect truth. To discredit objectivity because it is impossible to arrive at perfect truth is akin to dismissing trial by jury because it isn’t perfect in its judgments. Both ‘Impartiality’ and ‘Objectivity’ are more important. A journalist’s job is to educate the readership concerning a particular matter. This is best done by interviewing experts from different viewpoints and offering their points of view regarding the facts of a story while weaving those facts into the story itself without personal bias filtering in. Many people think that because you cannot achieve absolute objectivity, you should forget about this ideal. That is very much like saying societies shouldn’t seek justice. Neither should we try to be good persons. Truth is that, while trying to be objective, but being honest about our limitations and subjectivity, journalists can give a better service to their public.

Where does Indian Journalism stand today?

We now know what wrecks the very embodiment of daily papers and TV News Channels. Majority of the media show just what excites or irk its viewers. No one person is wrong to believe that some of the Media are wholly and solely responsible for creating social chaos and disorders in the country. They close their eyes to factual news or those that are worth mentioning and instead romanticise about misleading impressions or fabricate confusing situations. Media has become more like a business – they are keen on increasing viewership, gathering audience, increasing TRP and minting money, and in this process, they end up writing and composing their version of “news”. There is a need for a single, external, and strong statutory regulator for all modes in the media which can order penal actions, if the any media resorts to yellow journalism. The Media cannot hide behind the garb of freedom of speech. Self-Regulation for the Media has failed in India. There is a need for an external statutory regulator. The Media is called the Fourth Estate. If it has the true right to act as the Fourth Estate, it must also abide by the responsibilities of being the Fourth Estate. A code of conduct implemented by the parliament is required today.

(NEw Bureau)

 

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