The year 2020 has been turbulent for countries across the globe. As a nation, we have had a challenging time in the past 2 months: economic downturn, surge in COVID-19 cases, confrontation with China, and floods in Bihar and Assam.
It is during these challenging times that media plays a vital role. It is the source of information for the public. But has the media been responsible during the tough times? It definitely calls for scrutiny.
On June 4, 2020, the news of death of a pregnant elephant due to consuming of a explosive laden fruit caused outrage. The media was quick to give it a communal colour without ascertaining the facts. The investigation revealed the fruit was kept to ward off pests entering farm. A common practice by farmers across the country. A practice which needs to be condemned and an alternative needs to be suggested. But a case of man-animal conflict was turned to target a particular community.
On June 16, a violent clash between the Indian and Chinese troops at Galwan valley left 20 Indian soldiers dead. It was treacherous of China to instigate India amidst a pandemic. India retaliated in the economic sphere. The media should have educated people on the issue and discussion on the future of INDIA-CHINA relations, economic impact of a trade war, and the need to decouple from Chinese economy was expected. But media discussion was on how China was rattled by economic strike and pulled back, how Chinese economy would downturn if India completely boycotts their goods.
In reality, after 40 days of military and diplomatic level talks, disengagement is complete at Galwan, Gogra post and Hot springs, Pangong Tso is still on agenda. The Indian economy’s reliance on China is greater than the latter’s on India. The media was discussing boycott of Chinese goods while their title sponsor remained Chinese companies. We need pragmatic approach to tide over the challenge; but it was all jingoism.
The exponential rise in COVID-19 cases is a matter of concern. While there’s a rat race for the vaccine, an Indian company claimed complete ‘CURE’ from the virus. Media went gung-ho and gave the product free publicity. Instead of questioning the claims, most news channels became their cheerleaders. After AYUSH ministry stepped in, the company retracted and said it was just immunity booster and not “CURE”. Unprofessional and irresponsible behaviour of the journalists came to the fore.
Another challenge has been the floods in Bihar and Assam. Bihar, a backward state in various indices, has opened to war on multiple fronts. Migrant labour influx, surge in COVID-19 cases, rising unemployment and flood have added to its woes. About 25 lakh people have been displaced as on 28 July.
Assam has also been severely paralysed; about 30+ lakh people have been affected and more than 100 dead as on 28 July. About 85% of Kaziranga National Park has been submerged, thereby endangering the lives of animals, most of which are already endangered.
But the media had other pressing issues to be discussed. “The lobbies in Bollywood”. The death of a famous actor by suicide was a rude shock, and his family has been mourning in silence. The media sensationalised the issue by claiming lobbies in the industry had killed him. The media has denied him “dignity in death.” Bollywood has a book of dark secrets. Heavens will not fall if the above topic is not discussed.
The floods may not be important for media, but it does affect the country in the long run. The decade has been characterised by extreme drought and floods. The man-animal conflict and floods in Bihar and Assam have something in common. It’s a clear indication of climate change.
A nation with majority of people are dependent on agriculture, and agriculture in turn is dependent on rainfall; climatic disruptions would be catastrophic. It would in turn endanger our food security and feeding a billion people would be a daunting task.
The above cases show how media has conducted itself. If not all, then at least the majority. Instead of reporting and discussing issues affecting people, they played to the gallery. Across various discussions on news channels, experts were never seen. But cuss words and inappropriate behaviour were the cornerstone of the discussion.
Dissent, debate and discussion are intrinsic part of Democracy. The media is considered as the 4th PILLAR of Democracy. Questioning and holding people accountable is the basic tenet of journalism. But in the recent past, the role of media has definitely been questionable. When news reporting changes from ground to air-conditioned studios, News definitely becomes nuisance.