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Indian TV Channels: The Case Of Rising TRPs And Falling Democracy

The media today is ascending the mountain of TRPs by crushing democracy. But this did not happen all of a sudden. The media has been playing its dirty cards for a long time now, it’s just that a clearer picture of the destruction caused by them is visible now.

But what does the media have to do with democracy?

The media is considered the fourth pillar of democracy. The main job of journalists is to interrogate and question those in power. Journalism also forms an important link between a country’s government and its people. In simple words, it showcases the policies, plans and statements by a government to the people and in return, makes the voice of the people heard by higher authorities. However, what we currently experiencing is a change in this ‘hypothetical definition of journalism’.

We all know the whole exaggerated drama that the media has been portraying for the past 2-3 months. The entire #JusticeForSSR episode is nothing but a distraction to hide the skeleton of the shrinking economy. This episode is being used by the media houses to sway people away from the real, and much more serious, issues in India, such as the rising number of coronavirus cases, and India’s shrinking economy and unemployment, to name a few. In fact, the Bombay High Court on 10th September, 2020, said, “We are surprised to find there is no state control over electronic media.”

A lot more has happened in the country over the past 90 days, other than Kangana Ranaut receiving Y+ security cover and Rhea Chakraborty’s black magic amongst other unimportant things. The number of coronavirus cases in India has crossed 4.93 million (as of 15th September, 2020), India’s GDP is – 23.9% and five million salaried people lost their jobs in July 2020. And the media is completely ignorant of these serious figures.

Illustration by Mir Suhail.

However, as I said earlier, it’s not the first time that journalism has been at stake in India. During the 1975 emergency, there was a complete suspension of freedom of press, amongst suspension of many other constitutional rights. Journalists and opposition leaders were thrown in jails for speaking their minds out. The printing presses were ransacked, newspapers not allowed to be circulated for two days and journalists asked to strictly adhere to the government’s “guidelines”. Newspapers had to take permission from the Chief Press Advisor before printing anything. Such was the scenario in 1975. Skip to 2020, and more than 50 journalists have been arrested, physically assaulted, threatened or booked for critically reporting on Covid-19.

And not surprisingly, India is on the 142nd position in the World Freedom Index 2020. Its rank is even lower than Bhutan (97th), Afghanistan (122nd) and Myanmar (139th). This clearly shows the true picture of the deteriorating condition of journalism in India.

But, this is not it. The fourth pillar of democracy is shattering in new ways now. Journalism has become more of a business than an information provider. How? Advertisements play a big role in the type of content we see on news channels. Let me make this clear to you that the monthly subscription you pay for the news channels is not enough for them to sustain. To gain profits, news channels depend on advertisers.

These advertisers invest in the channel that has greater “reach”, meaning a channel with more number of viewers. Secondly, they look for those channels for which the average time spent by viewers is greater. Studies have found that people very frequently switch channels. So, the main focus of advertisers is on the average time spent by viewers because they believe that only when a viewer watches the advertisement multiple times that they tend to purchase that product/service.

So, to increase their rating to get more advertisers, TV channels try to increase the time spent by each viewer by ‘entertaining’ them. This is the reason we see catchy headlines, triggering statements and unhealthy debates. These news channels try to emotionally arouse people by bringing up hot topics such as terrorism, communal politics, national security and what not.

man siting on laptop at his home
What can you and I do as consumers to save media from falling? We should be to stop viewing toxic news channels and their toxic debates and pay for the news we want to see.

This is the reason why debates are so popular on news channels, just to “hold viewers”  so that these news channels can fill up their pockets. A very recent trend of “shout debates”  has emerged and the reason is the same. Such debates make people stick to a particular channel and this is exactly what these so-called “news channels”  want. These debates also prove to be a money-saving exercise for these media houses. All they need is a studio and a few people shouting at each other. That is it. And this is how media houses are using the public to make their pockets heavy.

It is definitely true that the Indian media is weakening our democracy. But we can’t ignore the fact that with a steep fall of TV media and print media, there has been an increase in independent news sources on various platforms such as YouTube, open blogs, etc. It is rightly said that “Every cloud has a silver lining.”

But what can you and I do as consumers to save this essential pillar from falling? The very first step should be to stop viewing toxic news channels and their toxic debates. Secondly, we should pay for the news we want to see. This can be done by donating or subscribing to the news houses we consider are doing good-quality journalism. Lastly, we as citizens should stay conscious and aware.

I would like to conclude this article with a quote by Malcolm X:

“The media’s the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses.”

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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