When I was 15, I remember watching news channels and all the panache that news anchors and the field reporters had. Whenever alone, in my room or my bathroom, I would pretend to read the news or make my comb a microphone that I would interview people with. Using the same tone and vocabulary as my favourite journalists, I would get quite excited emulating them. “Desh aur duniya ki baaki khabro ke liye aap dekhte rahiye Aaj Tak“. Back then it was our “reliable” source of news.
I read a lot of articles, a lot of them even on Youth Ki Awaaz that criticise the Indian media for various things, the latest in fashion — the coverage of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. I would respectfully present a different point of view — something that I only realised recently. For the sake of this essay I will solely focus on this one case to keep the arguments simple.
If we talk about mainstream media in India, we have about 350 English news channels, and many in regional languages as well. Who owns these media houses/news channels? Is it the State? Centre? If it’s not owned by them it means that individuals in private capacities own news channels. Let’s try to put this into perspective. Every individual pursues a task, majorly due to their self-interest in it; and hence, the result they expect is a product of their self-interest as well.
For a private garment company, their self-interest is for everyone to wear their garments and to earn more money. For the Government, their self-interest is to stay in power and get re-elected in the next term (working for the people too, in some cases). For me, my self-interest behind this article is that people read it, and in extreme cases agree with it. It is only human nature to do things for our self-interest and continue to pursue it if it meets our expectations. Indian media, if that is the case, has its self-interest too.
Very clearly, if you have a news channel that is established to give people news, your immediate self-interest would be viewership. You will want people to watch your news channel over every other news channel there is. And the other one is money. Media and journalism are lucrative careers built on people’s viewership and minting money is equally (if not more) important. Who is to blame then? Because clearly, results can be seen.
After the coverage of Sushant’s death in the last 3 months Republic Bharat has proudly acclaimed the top spot in TRPs. And while what the news anchor at Republic does could be a new low and a lesson in Journalism 101, it is fetching him a good viewer-base, fame and money.
I would, however, not deny the fact that moral and ethics in journalism took a serious hit with this case. It made a mockery of mental health by trying to assume Sushant’s status looking through his Twitter and Instagram handles, analysing his interviews and public appearances, and doing prime time shows based on “WhatsApp Forwards“.
But we watched it too. We got into asking justice for him, borrowing the media’s opinion and retweeting everything that confirmed our biases. We gladly took the masala off the story. We did it too. Perhaps we are to blame as well. But we don’t talk about that because we don’t accept that we also saw those debates, we were watching a woman get hounded by media persons and that gave these news channels the views they wanted.
I am reminded of a speech Raj Kamal Jha (editor of The Indian Express) made: “Good journalism is not dying; it is getting better and bigger. It’s just bad journalism makes lot more noise than it used to do 5 years ago.“
I am asking before we judge the media and its biases, can we wait for a moment and think about our biases and not let the media feed off it?