Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Restrain Electronic Media: TV channels creating scare, terrorizing society for the sake of TRP

Less than 24 hrs after the blasts in Hyderabad, a landmine blast in Gaya in Bihar killed eight persons with Naxals as suspects in the incident.

Did you remember any channel showing 'Flash' or any reporter from Patna reporting it? I checked the channels' websites the next evening repeatedly but none of them had taken it on its front page.

Among national newspapers, except one, the remaining papers didn't take the news on its front page. Doesn't it show how blasts in India are treated differently.

Its not just about the toll. Two deaths or even none [but a few injured] in a City can lead to stoppage of all broadcast and live coverage of incident but 10-50 in Chhattisgarh [Jharkhand or other parts] may just be one of the headlines with no follow-up.

In fact, its not just about toll, the place where an incident and occurred and the possibility of the group involved in it, determines its seriousness. So here are a few points, my observations how the electronic media is dictating national agenda, politics and society's attitudes.

Ten points: My Personal Charge-sheet Against Channels

1. It is generally believed that terrorists want to scare us. In this job, Electronic media unfortunately seems to be playing the role of a facilitator. Why can't news of an explosion or blast be shown with restraint or just as news. Yes, it is important but is it so important that all other news and events are dumped. The channels quickly suspend all other programmes and show nonstop live coverage, with reporters and editors, guests and experts on panel.

2. This naturally creates a feeling of 'fear' among us, a feeling of siege. We get more scared than we should be and this is really a serious thing. We are made to feel insecure. Due to such coverage, everyone in cities is forced to see and talk about it. When they show nothing else, it is bound to dominate conversation. It is probably done because TRP is measured on the basis of viewership in Cities.

A blast in Gadchiroli or in Assam or in Bastar is not treated as seriously, perhaps, because in rural area people still watch our good old non-hysterical Doordarshan. An example is that when blast in Manipur killed three persons, there was no 'Terror' word but when one person was hurt in Pune, it was termed 'Terror'. Read it here.

3. Even if all the investigative agencies and their officers are mum and say that they have just begun investigation, the 'experts' begin mouthing names of bizarre sounding groups. The names will be taken for days. They will show even photo of man who was killed in a terror strike and defame him as a terrorist, as it happened with a slain politician from neighbouring country whose photo was shown by channels.

4. When last time Hyderabad was targeted, it was the group involving Lokesh Sharma and Devendra Gupta which had planted bomb. They are in jail. Why this possibility that their group could  be linked, was not explored?

It is known that Malegaon and Hyderabad were on hitlist of right-wing fanatics, then why along with 'other suspected groups, names of these groups were not taken? Or is it that 'Arabic sounding names' with photos of 'bearded men' bring more TRP! An example to suggest 'what is not termed as Terror'.

5. If the police say they have no clue, the media houses can't accept it. The reason is that every journalist worth his salt probably gets worried that if he doesn't write something, the journalist in rival paper may come out with a strange theory and this guy's stature as 'seasoned journalist or crime reporter' would be affected.

No one cares about the old journalist rule to confirm, check, re-check before doing a story. So why not some wild suggestions or theories. You ask the investigators about names of particular groups. Even if they don't say 'Yes', you can always write "Cops haven't ruled out". That's enough to run the story. Voila. That's magical journalism. And that's how it works in Indian media.

6. With such one-sided coverage, many of these channels, inadvertently, spread communalism and hatred. With photographs of Muslims and their names constantly repeated, it defames an entire community. These channels ought to be retrained.

They have resisted control or censorship in the past, and said that they would do it voluntarily themselves. But they have not been able to do it. There is no self-governing mechanism or code of ethics. People are defamed, and when they get acquitted, their lives are spoiled. There are no apologies.

7. Can't TV channels let police and agencies do their work? With such pressure as created by the electronic media, even the toughest agencies would feel the pressure to somehow catch a few guys and announce a wrap-up ie claim the credit of solving the case so as to shut up these guys. Journalists in India have already lost their credibility to such an extent that they are termed as police stenographers. No wonder, they will write what is told. Arrest of real culprits may or may not take place.

8. If TV channels have understanding of each and every organisation and have dossiers about all the culprits, why these shadowy groups don't get busted once for all. After all, then police must be knowing much more. Then, why incidents keep happening and why so many cases are still lying unsolved.

Isn't there something seriously wrong? Just today a man who was earlier termed 'mastermind' has been acquitted in a case of Karnataka. Once again, there is silence and no apology for defaming the person and destroying his life in the past.

9. Just keep record of news published in prominent newspapers and then tally them when the judgments are delivered, you will realise how we are being fooled. The reports published in many of the papers and aired on electronic media, don't quote officers or even suggesting that which sources are being talked about.

Its simple. You want to name someone or write something weird which comes to your mind. Just write that and in the end add, 'Sources said'. That's how the big circus is going on. Its everywhere. In Hindi and in English, both. Time to call their bluff?

10. I seriously believe that Indian electronic media is practicing Yellow Journalism. In the past, certain evening newspapers or tabloids were known for practicing dirty journalism--writing anything just for selling copies. But now its happening on a far larger scale. Its far more institutionalised. It spread more prejudices and stereotypes.

A large section of citizens is fed up. It is time to control these people [shouldn't there be certain accountability or some limit to which an event can be shown at stretch] who for the sake of eyeballs and TRPs, are hurting our society. This is no journalism. Its simply hysteria that is sold to us, creating scare and terror, causing disharmony.

I wish Government takes note as to how certain TV channels & newspapers are injecting poison in the society. They must take action, restrain this unchecked spread of canards and falsehoods. Journalism was considered the fourth estate, a pillar of democracy. But this pillar has not just weakened, it is affecting our entire democratic edifice.

Kindly save the nation.

[Disclaimer: When I say TV channels and media, it doesn't mean all of them. Its not a sweeping statement and hence I haven't named any of them, though I have screen shots to prove how they indulge in one-sided biased reporting. Still, I am being more responsible than them.]