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Mass Media or Crass Media?

9th March, 2009

What happens when you have 5 English-only news channels in India competing against each other to get maximum viewership?


News nowadays seems to be like tomato ketchup – made to be palatable with all dishes. News is everywhere, and news is for everyone – there’s masala news, there’s celebrity news, there’s terrorist news, and there’s finance news.

So where’s the “Children’s News Channel” ?

In fact, I’m waiting for someone to start one. Or maybe a women-only news channel. By women. For women. Of women. Or maybe – The News Channel for the Woman of Substance.

This mass production of news (and its corresponding mass consumption) is constantly up-to-date, available in many forms (TV, print, mobile, radio), so that you know, even in the middle of your dreams, that the weather in Madagascar is moderate-warm. And that possibly there could be some rain-shower in the evening.

Apart from all the up-to-date data that flows through that fire hose, I wonder when they’ll start analyzing the news to gain valuable information. Some erstwhile fortnightly magazines (like Outlook) switched over to become weekly magazines, to probably “catch up” on the latest incidents. Of course they’ll analyze less and talk more. Even daily newspapers don’t get to the gist of things, they don’t sit down and analyze, but are more concerned on printing sensationalist front-page headlines.

More on Printing Sensationalist Front-Page Headlines

No, I wont talk about stupid “Police-Commissioner’s-Dog-Rescued” headlines that are printed on “lull” days. Even on more “happening” days I feel the whole media fraternity goes into overdrive.

The Mumbai blasts on 26/11 showed how shallow and pathetic our news channels have become. Divulging current information to the public did not in any way help the family and friends of those held hostage. Nor did it help me, sitting in another city, know that exactly 12 minutes prior some commandos had landed on the rooftop. In the spirit of competition, however, each TV news channel tried to out-do each other by publicizing facts FIRST.

There is clearly a large gap between the incentives for a journalist to report, and the responsibilities of a journalist to not report!

Publicity-seekers know the secret sauce

The TV news channel space is not hogged by terrorists alone, it is shared by the Pramod Mutaliks and Raj Thackerays of the world. Mutalik, and his bunch of women-beating girls-should-not-be-seen-in-a-pub brigade, and Thackeray, with his regionalist Maharashtra-only goons, qualify into a category that I’ll call publicity-seekers. Both of them were nothing before they did their dastardly acts – even if they called for a press conference hardly three journalists would have showed up!

But then they did their dastardly acts. And a major component of their success in doing so was the immense news coverage that went with it. Mutalik managed to get one news channel to shoot the whole scene where women were pulled out of a pub and beaten up – along with the men who tried to protect them. Ever since then, any news channel that shows that same video, or screengrabs of it, runs a free advertisement campaign for Mutalik.

It seems that journalists are easily playing into the hands of the publicity-seekers.

The demand for news is high (or appears to be high), but the supply of news seems to lag behind. Either you create the news – Police Commissioner’s dog – or you let publicity-seekers run wild. And of course, it’s not your job to inform the police either – they would just spoil the party right?

The Dilemma of Being a Journalist

It just sucks to be a journalist these days (not that I’m one!). But common, if you want your career to take off, you’ve got to be there when Mutalik bashed those girls. You’ve got to be there when Raj Thackerey stages a strike for Maharashtra reservation. Your news article on alarming deforestation in Kerala wont even get 2 eyeballs.

Somehow, I feel thats the problem – our eyeballs. All this would change once we create an outcry on the deforestation in Kerala, rather than focusing on some stupid Mutalik! He feeds on publicity, he feeds on us talking more. The root problem, after all, is us!

But then if the world was completely driven by consumer demand (by you and me), there would only be movies with leggy lasses who always feature one shot with the girl coming out of the sea in a bright red bikini.

A regulater seems like some viable answer – like the censor board, curtailing both suppy and consumer demand for obnoxious things in movies!


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