The loss of credibility is perhaps the most serious concern of the Indian media today. Many within the media can feel it but are reluctant to accept it fully because of a variety of reasons. Media persons per se tend to shift the ‘blame’ to the promoters who are interested more in business than in editorial sanctity.
A promoter once famously said ‘we are an advertising/marketing company and we need managers not editors’. There may have been amendments to that policy in the leading media house in recent times, but the attitude is clear. In fact, other houses have started emulating its media marketing strategies, because the strategies earned money. Who cares about the editor’s ivory towers, his ideology and the overall credibility! The marketing people bring the money and for that if one needs to bend the media ‘ethics’, so be it.
Many of the newspapers, in the pre-independence era, started with a mission – to contribute to the country’s freedom movement. Later, some of them did carry stories of the country’s development and progress; but most of them tried to ‘trim’ their stories according to readers’ ‘desires’, which clearly became an excuse to sell more. Ideas changed; ‘selling’ newspapers was not profitable; seeking more revenue from advertising became the name of the game. But more advertising revenue was intricately linked to the number of readership.
Today’s media, the television has to look for TRP and the social media the ‘likes’ to earn their revenue. In other words, the media business can never ignore the ‘eyeballs’. Sometimes the figures are allegedly fudged; apparently to keep the revenue flow intact. Circulation figures, TRPs and ‘likes’ are always suspect. But what is eroding the most in the media, quietly and steadily, is the credibility which once lost fully, no marketing strategies can recover it.
The business promoter, through his excess greed, should not kill the hen that lays the golden eggs (though many of the media houses are in a cash crunch because of wrong editorial policies and marketing strategies). It will happen if the credibility of the house finally evaporates. A media house, if handled carefully, can bring tremendous social prestige (in addition to revenue). But that advantage can also be misused, both by the promoter and the editor if either of them or both have political ambitions. A media house provides the opportunity to hobnob with the elite and powerful; but forgetting the ground realities of the media (what media stands for) can lead to disaster. And that is what is happening today with most media houses. They are aligning themselves with one political party or the other – either for personal gain or for greater revenue.
The political parties have an ‘agenda’ and they always try to manipulate the media for its own propagation. The ‘ideology’ of the pre-independent media has lost its relevance. And so have the political parties, if they had any ideology at all. If the reader or audience questions the ‘aligned’ media’s credibility today, they cannot be blamed for it. It’s the media who has to take the blame, and try to rectify its ways.