Sunday, July 16, 2006

Indian Media - An Analysis

I have been a keen observer of the Indian Media - right from its nascent stages to its maturity and now to its cut-throatedness. In this fast growing landscape of modern India, the media, it emerges, no longer remains an archaic battery of reporters who "worked for the truth" on shoestring budgets and measly salaries. Today, the Indian Media is a global force to reckon with, with celebrities for anchors (Abhishek and Rani had done a cameo NEWS Reading on NDTV India as part of a Bunty Aur Babli promotion) and anchors for celebrities (Rajdeep Sardesai, Barkha Dutt) and a motto that says "seek the truth that gets us attention". Gone are the days when an entry into the journalistic profession was viewed by such disdain by parents as might be reserved for the jobless. Now are the days of self-styled and self-employed Entrepreneurs who take pleasure in what they do. This unapologetically proud and self-confident batch now represents the face of the Indian Media, completely replacing the bygones of Doordarshan (well, these bygones still hang around on DD, where nothing has ever changed and nothing perhaps will) and has finally made NEWS so much more about the NEWS Reader! The Indian Media now uses the latest technology be it using the latest Video-linkup technologies or having the most feature-oriented web technologies. The Indian Media has truly come to age, with media pundits around the world proclaiming : "India seems to have a voracious apetite for NEWS! Look at how many NEWS Channels they have! And Look at how many are still being set up!". Whats more, in a review of Press-Freedom and Freedom-of-Expression, India was ranked higher than the United States for having a greater degree of Freedom of the Press!!

Yet, am I all that enthused by all of this? No. Why? Because, while the Indian Media has risen phenomenally from a job on the sidelines to a job in the headlines(pun intended), it has murdered some of the golden ethics of journalism that were being followed by the same "archaic" media we criticized so much. Is this maddeningly competitive world and an increasingly saturated Media, the various channels/papers have taken to unconventional, often unscrupulous means to get themselves heard most. The result is a whole lot of psycho/political/economical/sport babble, but no real analysis. The intense competition has lead to an atmosphere where channels often go out of their way in one-upmanship. The consequence is that the story that is being covered gets completely lost in a barrage of self-congralatory messages, "BREAKING NEWS" and "EXCLUSIVE" and "ONLY ON AAJ TAK/NDTV/CNN IBN" tags.

The Indian experience of using in-the-face and not-so-subtle ways of capturing the public's attention is quite radically different to the Western Media's method of taking up more conventional methods of revealing the truth (or very often hiding it). So, what is more effective and more ethical?

Drawing the line is very important in journalism, more so when it concerns a potential clash of interests - On one hand the issue of individual privacy while on the other the issue of revealing information that may be of public/national interest. So, where should one draw the line and does Indian media even considers these ethical paradoxes let alone obey them?

The answer to the above question is in the negative - Sting journalism in itself is a great concept. However its been given a bad name by the people in the circus called the Indian Media, which has often used it for purposes which violate both the ethical considerations of investigative journalism. By now, entire books have been written on the Shakti Kapoor incident and I am sure that there will be consensus when I say that it was a distasteful choice made by the owners of IndiaTV to telecast such a "sting op" as a matter of National Importance.

All this doesnt take away from Sting journalism as a valid and justified method of revealing corruption in public domain. Sting operations are controversial, in the sense, that a sting of any kind invariably involves an invasion of privacy of some kind. In the United States, Sting operations conducted by Private entities have no admissibility in a court of law. Infact, a sting operation conducted by other than a competent Public Authority is punishable by law. However, the point is that America is a country whose Judiciay and L&O system is undisputedy the best in the world. It ensures a speedy trial and swift justice. Moreover, America has transparency and the infrastructure and Human manpower to check corruption. But in the case of India, its a completely different story. In India's case, where an honest Govt official is a rarity and if he exists, he will be invariably occupying the lower niches of the Red-Tape machinery. In such an opaque system, Sting operation is crucially important to ensure that public officials do not labour under a cloak of invincibility and immunity. However the manner in which Stings have been conducted by the Indian Media has undermined the credibility of Stings as a tool for journalism.

Another grouse I have with the Indian Media is the self-congralatory messages and the urge and the glee with which the anchors read out "Exclusives" or narrate them, even if the incidents concerned happen to be as serious and as sober as a Bomb Blast. An incident in this regard is the Kumbakonam School Tragedy on July 16th,2004 when 92 school children were burnt to death in a grisly incident in Tamil Nadu. The tragedy left nothing but a smouldering ruin of exposed bones, ash and severly charred bodies - a gruesome image to watch. Yet, SUN TV went ON AIR with the pictures and was soon pursued by NDTV. I was in my living room watching TV along with my Mom and sister, when the images were flashed on screen. I will never forget those images, perhaps not even after dying.

The point I am trying to make here is that the Indian Media has a long way to go. Its reaching there in gasps and fits. It seems stylish, sleek and ready to take on the world, yet it must get its priorities right, it must learn to resolve its internal and external competition within the boundaries of taste and ethics, it must report NEWS fearlessly and in an impartial fashion. So far a majority of these objectives/plans have not been achieved in concrete. I think that the Indian Media has got it right in terms of Style and Ambition. Perhaps, for a change, it has to do some soul-searching for grass-roots driven hardcore journalism. Only then, can it represent this fast emerging superpower-to-be of the 21st century called India.


PS : Expect more on the Indian Media in the days to come.

Also, please forgive me if for any formatting/typing errors, etc as I have just made a start

Note :
Some background about the Kumbakonam Tragedy :


Anonymous said...

Hello Rajiv,
I was surfing the net for some research purpose. Chanced upon your blog.Thank goodness I was almost done with my work when I started reading your's so damn engrossing! Had I seen it earlier, I am sure I would've spent most of the afternoon reading the stuff on your blog page.
I would like to ask you your 16th july, 2006 mentioned the following quote: “seek us the truth that gets us attention”. Was this coined by you..or were these words of some famous personality..if it's the latter then can I have the name of the person please?
Well I think I should spare you now. Thank you. Take care.


P.S. If you wish to get in touch with me, you can mail me at

Directionless Wanderer said...

Hey Mansha,
I am glad to hear that you found my blog very interesting. I was pleasantly surprised to see such an old post of mine getting a comment. Unfortunately, I don't check my mails very regularly and hence came to know of it only today. But I still wanted to let you know that I read the comment and am glad that you liked it.

As for the phrase "seek us the truth that gets us attention" - that was coined purely by me as a sarcastic take on how the Media only shows us those truths which are sensationalist and which fetch them higher viewer ratings.

If you have a blog I can access, then why don't you send me the link! I would love to read it.

And please do keep visiting my blog. Visit the archives to find more posts.