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Media exposed


ANUBHA BHONSLE SENIOR EDITOR, CNN-IBN | New Delhi, January 24, 2013 17:17
Tags : Journalism | media | India | allegations |

The Indian media does face a serious crisis of credibility. Over the last few years, it has had several collateral damages. Some have come into the spotlight; others have led to a devaluation of one of its greatest assets – fierce independence.

Having created this image of a resolute Fourth Estate that goes after all kinds of wrongs, the media today cannot afford to feign ignorance or surprise if it is at the receiving end of indignation or allegations of perceived bias. It is our job to seek truth, not seek balance (as is ironically taught in most journalism schools). At the same time, we need to be conscious that perceptions of subjectivity are matched by a fierce commitment to accuracy.
A big credibility crisis also comes from this whole new world of aggressive, unorthodox business strategising that often throws out of the window many things we learnt about journalism. The time has come to draw some kind of a Lakshman rekha because if we don’t, journalism as a whole and broadcast journalism in particular will cease to be what they were always meant to be – an honest, investigative, analytical and ethical pursuit. I don’t deny that TAM data, leading to TRPs are a major currency for advertising and therefore revenue generation. But I don’t agree with those who believe that the battle for good television news content is a losing one.
At the heart of the credibility question for me is not the stories we have told, but the stories we have missed or chosen not to do because they require resources. There are a few exceptions, but the space and the resources being allotted to real, on the ground reportage is steadily diminishing.

There is now an increasing format in broadcast news that I would like to call “forced crusader journalism”. Its high points are aggressive, emotional nationalism. It feeds more on rhetoric, less on facts. It is appealing and easy to understand and often gives the impression of action or a build-up. Very often, this brand of journalism turns the media into a source of spectacle and not a credible representation of the real world as it exists. This, I must underline, is in distinction to what TV news is accused of, dumbing down editorial content to trivial tittle-tattle. It takes the other end of the late CP Scott’s much quoted line. One of the longest serving editors of the Guardian, he said, “Comment is free but facts are sacred”.  Comment of course is also cheap.

One of the subsets of this form of journalism is being loud, authoritative and perhaps even shrill. Asking a tough question isn’t disrespectful and one needn’t have to be loud, shrill or disrespectful to ask tough questions. But I think as a format, this will continue for sometime to come.

In the days ahead, there are several challenges for the media. Paid news is prime among them. The issue that came into the public sphere after the 2009 General Elections continues and is worrisome. It’s a rogue practice and mocks every rule of ethical journalism. Not just election coverage but forms of paid news exist as a wider phenomenon and the lack of debate/introspection is a worrying sign.Another big challenge as I see is the broadening of the media discourse. We can no longer use the tyranny of distance as an excuse and leave many states unrepresented.

The media has paid insufficient attention to the mushrooming of ‘fixers’ among its fraternity and especially in smaller towns where no reporting base exists for an organisation and reporters are often sent to cover events. Also as a whole the professional standards that come out of the careful nurturing of  journalists over many years is now completely on the decline. Broadcast news media is very good at covering events, not processes. That’s  because the energy and the enthusiasm of the young recruits are not always matched by our quality of journalism.

The dumbing down process is also looking at how to dumb down journalists. We are taking on people fresh out of colleges and institution and there is a larger disconnect that shows through.Some of the finest work done by the Indian media, now and in the past, has been its investigation and exposé of political corruption, misconduct and government misdeeds. In fact this in itself presents limitless opportunities to the media to break new ground and bring the moral compass back on course. If we could tie this with an acceptance of our social responsibility, a less breathless style and a sober and a realistic reflection of our own importance, we should be fine.

In my roughly 14 years of journalism, I have strived and struggled through the same questions and doubts as any journalist has. I have learnt lots of lessons; prime among them is that journalists can talk to anybody on a story. How you sift through what you are told, assess who it is coming from and how you make the relevant linkages is what makes you a journalist. My professor and the well-known journalist P Sainath said, without this we would all be stenographers. No offence to stenographers. I have just kept this lesson close to me wherever my reporting has taken me.

(As told to Aditya Raj Kaul)

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017