Digital media, breaking news culture, competition, and commercialization have yielded one significant change – role reversal among journalists and entertainers.
Flashy and catchy titles, emotional appeals, drama (in the name of debates), below the belt verbal abuses and continuous sponsoring and promotion by advertisers – things which were used to popularize cinema, arts, and the entertainment industry, now have become symbols of every day prime time debates.
India’s several (not all) leading newspapers and news channels resort to such practices just to grab the attention and increase their commercial stakes!
We regularly witness how channels studios are changed into war rooms whenever India faces border issues. The recent Galwan clash is an example. Fighter jets and tanks firing ammunition can be seen in the background and patriotic music is played. Animation and creativity take over the real news. Even costumes are decided based on news content; e.g. camouflage dress for war-related news and space suits (look-alike) while reporting space missions!
On the commercial front, around 40% of the TV screens are covered by advertisements while reporting is going on. This in addition to intermittent full-time advertisements. Moreover, today in the name of news an entire episode is broadcasted to popularize a certain product or a company. So here, the journalists have changed their role to salesmen/saleswomen. So multitalented our journalists are!
We have seen verbal as well as physical spat on live news channels. Reporters try to scandalize every information, anchors try to provoke people, and the winner of such debates is decided based on “who can shout louder!” It becomes deeply problematic when, leave aside the principles of journalism, even bare minimum moral standards of humanity are breached! Take for example – the Sushant Singh Rajpoot suicide case.
Reporters were seen encroaching into his family house for ‘live reporting’. Certain channels tried to link it with paranormal activities. W.H.O guidelines on suicide reporting were flouted!
Here comes the second part; the changing role of entertainers! Today we have ample content creators on YouTube, comedians, and lyricists who are playing the role of journalists. For eg – many amongst them (who are not at all related to journalism/media) covered the NRC-CAA-DELHI RIOTS issue in a far better way than many of the mainstream media. The movies like Article 15, section 375 are breaking stereotypes.
Entertainers are bringing us the real issues, exposing the hypocrisy of several politicians, helping in framing relevant public discourse, awakening citizenry, finding loopholes of policies in rather humorous ways, and thereby ensuring accountability of the government institutions – the prime responsibility which was laid down on the shoulders of media!
However, on mainstream media channels, there is an absolute minimum coverage of essential socio-political topics that affect the everyday lives of Indian citizens. There is a considerable gap between on-ground reality and on-screen information by news channels.
I advise you to do a little exercise; from now on, just see what percentage of total debates on prime times were related to topics like unemployment, education, health infrastructure, Assam-Bihar floods, Delhi commission on minority’s report on Delhi violence, police reforms, prison reforms, etc.
Public or the mainstream media channels? Here I would like to acknowledge one corollary – we watch what we like, we like what we think, and we think what we watch! This loop needs to be broken at atleast one point! And I do not hope much from the money-power-fame thirsty media conglomerates. I leave them to their principles of journalism-if any!
However, despite all this, there are some ‘rays of hope’ too. For example, Indian journalist Mr. Ravish Kumar won last year’s Ramon Magsaysay award – a proud moment for India’s journalism. Several unsung ground reporters are working day and night, bearing the state suppression! Several youngsters on YouTube like Samdish and Dhruv Rathee are leading the cause in their way. Channels like Newslaundry are advocating advertisers-free, reader-supported independent media.
Hence the real solution is with US, we must think what we should see and support; what we should listen to and read! Entertainers are free to do things in their way, but journalists and media have a huge responsibility on their shoulders. If they don’t play their role well, the one pillar supporting the roof (democracy) is bound to break, and then we all can imagine that for how long this roof will shelter us!