Media or FMCG industry?

By Prabhakar Timble
05 October 2011 06:25 IST

Is there anything in our country other than government, corruption and politicians? The news wine served and realty shows dished by the media at all times has made me an addict of stories of failure, make-believe and defeat. I watch prime news and battles to hit the bed with feelings of hopelessness and pessimism. Over my morning cup of tea, I browse the newspaper headlines to start my day with moods of depression and cynicism.

True, there is competition. We have learnt that competition brings variety and heterogeneity. In the media world it is exactly the opposite. It is perfect uniformity rather than diversity. The race is to break the news first and later generate heat and darkness rather than light. The game is to cut each other to size through rhetoric and repartee and convert the discussion into a laughter show. Politics dominates day in and day out sprinkled with news of film releases at regular intervals. It seems that nothing else happens in this country. The cameras are all focussed on New Delhi political heroes and villains all the time. It is this and the satellite mode of dissemination that makes such channels national. In reality, they are all New Delhi local. The cameras would travel to other destinations only during emergencies equivalent to a terror attack, natural calamity or political football.

The overdoses of commercialisation are clearly visible. Whether it is news or entertainment, the stamp of advertising companies and PR industry is discernible. The commercial time is non-negotiable. The time for the tangibles is what remains after commercial breaks and could be sacrificed for more commerce.

On many occasions, I feel that the major news and follow up analysis is to a large extent also paid and compensated by PR industry. Look at how the media made the IPL Lalit Modi or time slots on Narendra Modi to project a developed Gujarat.  The 24 hour coverage provided to Anna Hazare and the earlier show of Baba Ramdev. The grapevine tells me that the very recent special story and its timing by NDTV and CNN-IBN on mining in Goa and the grilling of Chief Minister Digambar Kamat was a PR industry supported event. The professionals, it seems were hired by a north Goa politician also having roots in mining. This is not saying that the stories are totally out of context. I am only commenting on the timing and positioning of the same. Many times we may be watching debates on TV as we watch a one-day cricket match not knowing that both are fixed.

Mr. Amjad Ali Khan, the internationally acclaimed sarod maestro, in his interview to a local channel in Goa bemoaned that the mind-sets of the upper and the urban middle class are tuned to enjoy failures and defeats of others. In a realty show, viewers relish how competitors lose or are evicted and this mind-set of viewers is the main reason for the success of such shows, the maestro lamented.  Looking at the conduct of our top national anchors, which later others emulate, we can understand the tastes of the viewers. We enjoy when anchors put the politicians in a tight spot, demand resignations on talk-shows, give ultimatums to legislate and take commitments on policies. We also relish when anchors attack the enforcing agencies and officials during rescue operations as a result of terror attacks or natural calamities.

The time has come to be vocal on media corruption. Corruption of legislators, public men, judicial officers and the private corporate sector is undoubtedly a big issue. It is brought centre stage by political parties and the media. However, everybody assumes that media is a holy cow and there are hardly any ripples on the rampant corruption in the media. The complaint against the government owned media is that it hides more than it informs or conceals more than it discloses. The private media suffers from the charge of selective disclosure. The hold of the advertising companies and PR industry on private is growing in geometric progression. It can be seen from news bulletins, product launch events and other features in electronic media and also the face of the front-page of our newspapers. The page has almost become faceless in the journalistic sense.

The government does not take media corruption seriously and neither the vocal civil society. This is largely because media provides the needed publicity and acts as the ladder to build the image. Further, any control on media will be shot down as an attempt to muzzle the fourth estate. Even an investigation into purely financial matters of media house would invite strong reaction from the intelligentsia and the civil society.

I have tried to place the larger picture of the media since it is reasonable to assume that the media cannot be free from corruption. Apart from the danger of corruption eroding the vitals of media, the other major issue is of alienation of both print and electronic media to issues of rural Bharat, human interest stories and stories of achievements in the field of science, technology, art, literature and culture. These never find the front benches in media classrooms. Some half-hearted attempts are seen in terms of Citizen Journalist, social impact awards etc. started by some media houses.  But, these are akin to corporate social responsibility attempts of private business houses.

How do I get freedom from media corruption? How do I get detoxified from the addiction to media which injects negativism in me and orients me to the conclusion that nothing is possible in this country?

It is time for the media industry to analyse and adhere to a code of ethics in reporting, advertising and fixing priorities. Understanding its role, power and influence there is the urgent need to rethink and rearrange since the difference between a media company and any other FMCG company is fast obliterating. Civil society has to also think of alternative solutions for headlines to human interest pursuits as opposed to monopolisation by politics and crime.

 

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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