When I was in my teens, I remember that the main source of getting information was through a limited number of newspapers and Doordarshan News. The debate that time was on the style of reporting – amongst the English newspapers in my home city of Kolkata, while it was reported that The Statesman did ‘direct’ reporting with a ‘matter of fact’ tone, it was alleged that The Telegraph reported the same incident with more ‘flair’, more in a story-telling mode. However, I don’t remember much controversy on the whether there was distortion of facts or not. And on a lighter node, watching Doordarshan News was a kind of a torture because of lack of visuals – still the incidents were reported on an ‘as is’ basis.
Then came a whiff of fresh air, when Prannoy Roy started with a capsule programme of “World This Week”. We had a glimpse of the world in a 30 minute slot. The whole family used to be riveted in front of the idiot-box watching impacts that happened across the world. That probably gave us an indication of media-starved Indians what journalism and news reporting should be like in the years to come. Immediately, Prannoy Roy became a household name and the making of mega-stars in the news making industry started from that moment of history.
Next came a barrage of channels that carried out news using the cable television distribution channel. NDTV was the pioneer with 24 x 7 news first time in India probably ? It was still Prannoy Roy who led the show and budding news anchors started to make their marks in the national arena. While NDTV became a household brand, many other breakaways mushroomed in the market and they also became strong brands very soon. All facets of life – politics, international news and dynamics, sports, entertainment – everything started to be covered across channels. Associated with the competition, came the fight to gain TRP which is directly proportional to viewership.
Frankly speaking, I did not even hear the very word of “TRP” and its significance only till recent past. The other word that I learnt in last few years was “paid media”. Initially I was perhaps naïve not to believe in that. Why will an journalist put in a biased view of an incident when his / her job was to report on what happened ? But to my dismay, I soon discovered that different news channels started to portray the same incident differently – imposing their ‘point of view’ on that incident. I don’t know whether that falls under the ethics of journalism, but I did not like that concept at all.
You report on what happened on a ‘matter of fact’ mode – it is upto the individual viewers to make ‘judgement’ on different perspectives. I, as a viewer, am not interested with what a channel thinks, but rather I would prefer that freedom to be given to me. Unfortunately, that became the fashion. Very soon, we could see one incident being portrayed in one way in one channel and the other channel showing the same incident in a totally different way. Coincidentally, the views matched with the biased interests of different political parties. And I could not remove the thought from my mind on whether the media has become “paid media”. This thought started to get deep in my mind when some of the mega-stars of Indian TV channels were “alleged” to be the ‘middleman’ between business houses and political parties, trying to broker some deals.
Now, that has gone to another level. In order to score high on the battlegrounds of TRP, circulating unverified video’s, telecasting so-called “doctored” clips has become the order of the day. Whether the media houses are themselves producing the same or whether the so-called “paid media” channels are just executing orders from their masters – it is not clear to me as a viewer. But the very consequence of all the actions has resulted into an individual doubting each and every news whether that is the truth OR whether that is a lie; whether that is the truth OR whether that is just a biased version of the story !
While the electronic media has evolved drastically in India in last 20 years, I think the deterioration has been drastic as well. You just keep on shuffling the news channels and I can bet, any person can guess whether that channel reports in line with what Congress party wants to say or what BJP wants to say or what Left parties wants to say !
Overall, the trust that was there 20-30 years ago on printed and electronic media has now vanished from the common man. I don’t know whether the media channels feel the same, but as an ordinary Indian citizen, I feel ashamed on how “fair” journalism has fallen so low !
Hope some day better things will prevail in journalism and till that date, I can only keep on hoping !