Media losing credibility

The debate over the credibility of media remains as complex as ever. Over the years, reporting of some issues and of certain media practices have raised eyebrows. Not very long ago, the Radia tapes controversy and very recently, the episode of the two Zee News group editors allegedly caught on camera negotiating a deal for news broadcast in exchange for monetary considerations, has brought in sharp focus the issue of credibility of media in the country. No one could have imagined that the necessity of money to run news organisations would become so acute that tactics pursued by yellow journalists might engulf even the big media houses.

Having been associated with journalism for over two decades, the desire to have in place a counter media publication or a television news channel has become more resolute. The question is who will take the risk of financially supporting this idea at the cost of getting isolated by the cartelised approach of media houses, some of which are part of large corporate and business houses, serving their interests above everything else. The answer is perhaps none.

How else one would explain an editor colleagues’ dilemma in not being able to do a story on the issue of transparency in EMI calculations of financial institutions in a newspaper run by one such entity, or why a young journalist friend was told to keep out his ideas on doing newspaper stories on issues of governance which directly impacted day to day lives of people in the National Capital Region? Simple: it may impact the revenue of media houses through advertisements.

As a student of journalism in IIMC in the late 1980s, one was taught that in the pre-Independence period, the media worked with a missionary zeal which in the post-independence era has had been subjugated by a passion for marketing. Market forces coupled with political influences continue to dominate the written word, which is revered by many unsuspecting readers as the “Gospel Truth”. The print and electronic media have further expanded their reach with multi-editions at regional, city and district level with the advancement of technology. Not surprisingly, their editors are more businessmen than journalists.

The internet aided, with e-editions of various media publications, news websites and social media throwing up new challenges before practitioners of ethical media and votaries of free and fearless communication.
Agreed, that running a news organisation by completely over-looking its financial and marketing aspects is nearly impossible these days. But at the same time, can the credibility of media be sacrificed at the alter of financial, political and marketing constraints? The answer to this question may decide the future course of media in the country.

There were times when one could easily identify five or ten regional, national and international stories in the field of policy decisions, commerce and economy, agriculture, sports, entertainment, international developments, among others, by watching or listening to radio or television news channels. Barring a few exceptions, there was no difference in the approach to selecting the top ten stories of the day. Now, even after watching different news channels – or for that matter reading a newspaper – it becomes difficult to decide what the top ten stories are. Clearly, almost every news organisation, by and large, has its own news agenda and a set of top stories, thereby creating nothing but confusion and chaos in the minds of listeners, readers or viewers.

And now newspapers, battling the television news syndrome, are also not an exception to it. The bane of paid news has already started eating into the roots of media ethics, if not business itself. Journalism has to be committed to social causes, even more so in a democracy.

But it pains to see that frequently the media has been found wanting. Most media these days is found peddling problems and only a very few talk of solutions. Positive is passed off as soft news stuff and negative as hard. The high pitched debates are rhetorical rather than substantial. The centrist approach to the discussions is missing: participants take a premeditated position and continue to shout out at each other, thereby leading the listener nowhere except to a headache.

Media does not always have an adversarial role to governance, it must also help in good governance by reporting on positives. Portraying people’s betrayal of trust in institutions all the time may not be in the interest of anybody.

The competitive zeal to be first with the news is taking away even the serious among the media from an in-depth analysis of important issues. This is something which has been admitted to by many friends working in TV channels or newspapers. These must be seen as distress signals