Sensationalism: Creating ‘News’ Out of Thin Air

Posted on March 3, 2012 in Media

By Kaumudi Tiwari:

“Making a mountain out of a molehill” — an idiom that has been known to us since decades, but which has been redefined and put to practical use by the media. With the facility of instant news brought about by Television News channels, the access to happenings of the world has increased exponentially. However, with liberalisation of television as a medium, the number avenues for news have increased as well, thus bringing along the rat race for TRPs. With more than 100 news channels battling it out to grasp the audience’s attention to keep their economic and profit structure intact, the editorial content and quality of the broadcasted programs has suffered a heavy blow.

We have reached an era when our TV news channels are resorting to cheap tactics, and not to forget, irresponsible journalism to make sure we do not touch the remote control after we switch to their particular channel. And to make sure that this happens, “Sensationalism” is the easiest method they adopt. So we have entire slots of broadcast time devoted to repeatedly played clips of Bigg Boss contestants’ tantrums, modern-day Swayamwars, Bollywood link-ups and break-ups, cricket match losses(important to note is the fact that a hockey or football game lost is not considered important enough to be pondered over. It is just cricket which gets the fortunate or unfortunate privilege), publicity hungry men and women, snakes being worshipped and shoe-throwing incidents. This trend has been going on for quite some time now and it still continues.

What encourages the channel heads is the perception that their TRP increases when they “spice-up” a news item, which is immediately translated into acceptance by the masses. However, this is not the case. The increase in TRPs can be used as an indicator of popular approval for a news item only to an extent. Following that, it is only a matter of lack of choices for the viewer. It is a fact that a report full of ‘exciting and entertaining’ details does attract people who, through such reports, get a break from their monotonous lives, but this does not mean that the news item presented has been liked by the audience. And with more or less all the news channels going the path of sensationalism, the masses have limited or no alternatives. It is important to remember that an overdose of hyped ‘facts’ leads to the news channel losing its credibility.

A few days back I saw reportage on the news channel India TV about a child whose hand was amputated. It was, to say the least, preposterously disgusting to see this report being given the headline — “Yeh haath kyun kata Gabbar?!”  Not only was this headline absurd, but highly insensitive. Sure, it did manage to catch a few eyeballs but the question remains- Are we going to allow our news channels to repeatedly assault the Journalistic ethics and morals simply on the grounds that they need to make profits to keep their boats sailing?

The problem is not just that facts are spiced-up and presented, but the fact that the real problem comes along when news is created as per what the audience supposedly likes. The Indian cricket team loses a series and reputed news channels shame their profession by coming up with stories titled “Doob maro”, “Shame Team India”, “Katwa di Naak” and what not! The limit gets crossed when a certain ex-player who happens to have been present at the match venue or a player’s spouse/girlfriend is tagged as “unlucky” and held responsible for the loss. On the other hand, subjects of actual pertinence to development, like Poverty, Unemployment and Social Welfare are topics that are less-covered by the media, for the fact that they present a “depressing view of the world”, an image that is too heavy on the mind for the Indian viewer.

The real problem is that the news channels have gross misconceptions about the intelligence of their audience. Following the thought process of a master propagandist, our channels assume people to be unintelligent masses who are highly gullible and completely incapable of analysing or rejecting a news item presented before them. This misconception makes them present sheer nonsense on television and hope that it will be well-received. Moreover, our news channels need to direct their attention towards their moral responsibility towards the society and the government. It is easy now-a-days to demand one’s right for Freedom of Press, what is difficult is to be able to carry the baggage of responsibility that comes along with this right with Integrity and Dignity of work.