Who’ll watch the media?

I came across this interesting website today – CounterMedia. A watchdog for the media, you could say (though I wonder about the futility of such an act).

The way the Indian media is going these days, we definitely need someone to keep an eye out for the blatant disrespect for ethics and laws. Sting operations, screening violent and unnecessary images, sensationalizing every single thing and not to mention play those same old images a million times till you get bugged of them.

The screen at work was on continuously today, with one of the channels playing the whole political drama playing out in Karnataka. The ticker kept reading “breaking news” even after it was quite obvious it was the 100th time the Governor’s quote was being replayed. They looped the 1 minute clip of the fight in the Assembly, with people falling over, ripping their clothes out and more.

To be honest, I had not been following the drama so closely. This is not the first time JDU has pulled such nonsense and unless someone ousts the pests that run the party, it won’t be the last.

But I finally googled it to figure what the Governor said that created such a huge drama. And I was shocked to see the entire Democratic set up being ripped apart. The judgment of the Governor and the Speaker is considered holy. True, they are people too and hence biased. But in a shoddy democracy, they are the last hope.

A mere elected representative create such a drama. And now they are off to Delhi to get their case heard. They obviously have not heard of video conferences, telephones or cellphones. It has to be a face-to-face meeting, so they can yell and break things in person.

While I completely condone what is happening in the government, the drama on the television channel completely overdoses on the seriousness of the issue. The problem here is corrupt and power-hungry politicians (nothing new in that either). But I completely lose track of what is happening when I’m watching TV.

[Side note – Can we hope the President bans ALL these people from contesting elections EVER again? That’d be too much to hope for I guess]

The same thing happened with the Ayodhya verdict. For about half an hour, I couldn’t figure out what the hell was happening. There were people shouting.

It is perhaps easy to blame the television media for this kind of blatant disrespect to issues and sensationalizing things. But the problem lies in the viewership. The viewership that has grown jaded with the overdose of reality shows, that trips out on talking how ‘shocking’ that murder was. When you keep listening to the same thing every day, looking for gossip material, merely saying ‘it was a gruesome murder’ will not suffice at some point. We need to go into the genre of gore movies and show the blood splattered all over, the limbs cut away and lying in a pool of blood.

The reporters need to push harder to meet that bar set by their editors/superiors, who in turn are being pushed by the management to get high TRPs, which translates into bigger revenues and profits.

So where does the problem lie? With privately-owned channels that run on a revenue model and a gossip-hungry public.

They aren’t problems exclusive to India alone. Tabloids do more business everywhere in the world. We are curious people and we are mean, so we love to read about other’s miseries. In India, given our tendency to suppress natural desires, subjects like ‘a guy murdered his lover’ – with its tinges of drama, sex and whatever else – really sells.

We talk about it, all the while smugly saying “that would never happen to us.”

Of course, the reporters are equally responsible for bringing such news.  Perhaps as idealistic, just-out-of-college reporters without having bills to pay, we could say we will not report such news. And many do. I know people in the industry who are disgusted with what they do and try to hold on to some of those ideas with which we became reporters. But at one point, someone will slip. It is a high pressure job. 24 hours of news isn’t an easy job… particularly in days when the best you get is boring old economic data.

Would you watch 24 hours of boring economic data? Talking about how chilli prices went up while oil stayed down?

The question is – how far will the media go? Sting operations are now the norm at every channel, since Tehelka pulled one of eons ago. Nobody (excepts for the lawyers) whispers the word “privacy invasion.” It was acceptable with politicians taking bribes but busting into people’s homes for a story is just… sick. How far will we go before someone has to rap us and we lose all credibility?

Hell, I don’t trust what I watch on TV or read half the time. Real news, I believe, often lies in the content of half a dozen newspapers.

Link of the day: Times Now interview with Governor

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