Friday, August 25, 2006

Has media become subservient to market pressures?

From rescheduling a news item to a religiously conducive day or the weekend to attract maximum audience, this trend in media is persistently eroding the integrity of the fourth estate.

Sahara Mumbai on Thursday 8.00 pm aired a piece where Mr.RKB himself, interviewed people and dignitaries of the famous Shirdi temple located near Nasik. The issue at hand was the proposed replacement of the current silver throne with a golden for idol of the revered saint, Sai Baba.

The interview was done on earlier than or on Tuesday, I presume as teasers were being aired since Wednesday mid-morning. It was most likely picked up as a potential story after Mr. Bal Thackeray objected to such undue expenses when we are living in a state, Maharashtra, where farmers commit suicide on a daily basis because of lack of funds.

The teaser was being aired and to my surprise the full segment was not shown. I figured being a “special” they would have moved it to their regular weekend slot, which in itself would be in contradiction to the ideal of immediate news reporting. But they went a step further and picked a prime-time slot at 8pm on a Thursday, which is widely acknowledged as day attributed to Sai Baba. The teasers leading to this piece were aired almost once every hour on Wednesday and they also did a 10min showcase at 8pm on that day.

The move was obviously to generate maximum TRP for the channel, as many would watch it due to religious inclination and interest which would be heightened by the awareness of the day.

This was unsettling as being journalism student I wondered about the ethical propriety of such a move. Is media trying to create news today instead of purely reporting it?

As a pattern it may be observed that during the last four weekends a news bit has been consequently stretched to provide a sort of “reality TV” alternative for the weekend viewer! It began with the prince saga which was given almost 2 day minute by minute coverage. Then there was the infamous Jaswant Singh mole controversy which was probed mercilessly, more so on weekends. The PM and the Indo-US nuclear deal was vying for eyeballs all across the prominent TV channels.

Last week it was the Mahim creek water that had become sweet and hordes of people went to the beach to drink murky sea-water. This, in my opinion, is an excellent example of media created mass frenzy, as the amount of airtime given to this item ensured that more people would be encouraged to learn about the phenomenon by themselves, which resulted in small children drinking filthy water. This story was given almost 13 to 14 hours of airtime. The report was objective as it warned the people not to drink the water as it may contain toxins but was it responsible in giving it an incubation period via extensive coverage which lead to mass frenzy! I doubt whether this would be the case if the story were to break on a week day.

Although business compulsions of news channels cannot be ignored in today’s reality but it is imperative that they do not forget the very basics of reporting. We have a robust media here in India, which is not afraid to challenge the establishment policies and seldom hesitates to ask the important questions. By such gross violation of journalism ethics it would not only render the fourth estate hollow but also harm the psyche of its audience at large.

I revert to an often used and possibly clich├ęd quote but whose relevance is by far unquestioned. Mr. Stan Lee said it best when he proclaimed “With great power comes great responsibility”.


Sameer D said...

thats so true...even when it comes to reporting bout the reservation issue i think that the english media has given way too much emphasis on anti rather than pro....
slaves to a multimedia conglomerate...they define their agenda for the day!
there seems to be a serious dearth of creativity in media!

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