The Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan advised the journalists in a meeting in Delhi the other day to avoid ‘unpleasant truths’ and write only ‘nice things’. True, today’s paper is full of news ofviolence, corruption, communal hatred, terrorism, and rape. You hardly find a ‘positive’ story. Many have given up reading newspapers and taking refuge in entertainment television channels and sports. It’s a kind of escapism from hardreality.
It is time media professionals gave a hard look to their position in the context of the readers/audience perception. The change undergone by the media in the last two decades is phenomenal. Along with the technologies, one must admit that certain values have also changed. True, there was a time when in a newspaper office the editorial and marketing departments were separate entities and they hardly met. Most media houses were run by ‘trusts’ (many still are) and they served a ‘cause’ – many years ago the cause of independence and later, the ‘truth’. Not so any more. To be self reliant is a noble aim; but to make profits out of these ‘trusts’ is a deviation from the original aim of a search for truth. The profit motive has drawn the two departments – editorial and marketing – come together not so much for self-reliance as for TRPs, events, cover-page space-selling and other forms of ‘greater income’. The search for more business naturally demands that the media write only ‘nice things’ – as the Lok Sabha speaker has advised. It’s a business demand as well as a political demand.
Sandwiched between the two forces – business and political – media today has unfortunately yielded to a large extent to deviate from reporting the plain truth. Plain truth cannot always be ‘nice’. The governments in power, either in the centre or in the state, generally, instead of helping the mediahouses in their attempts to become self-reliant, arm-twists them to speak in favour of them. In a democratic set-up, these attempts at ‘controlling the media’ ultimately erode the constitutional balance.
“Media” is anall-encompassing term which involves several kinds of activities, often contradictory, within its fold. News reporting is not public relations and yet both kinds of activities come under media. Media also includes advertising, events, entertainment, filmmaking, animation, design, and radio and television production. There may be an invisible thread of reason linking all these various media activities but the skills involved in each of these spheres are very different. The attraction of these vocations areon the increase – sometimes even challenging mainstream subjects like engineering and medicine – but at the same time misunderstandings of its purpose from the traditional point of view are equally strong. A public relations or an advertising personmight listen to his political or business ‘boss’ because his job is to ‘promote’ a person or a product. But not so a reporter. He is there to write the ‘plain truth’. If he adds colour or a bias, he does it at hisown (or organisation’s) risk.
Ideally, the trust that runs a media house should help retain its credibility through objective reporting and not allow it to yield to any pressure, political or businesswise. But in these troubled times, this ishardly the case. Within the media, among the journalists, perceptions too need to change. Journalists are not stenographers mandated to write ‘nice’ things only; but the world too is not just about violence and corruption and an investigation is not just ‘muck-raking’. Positive things do happen; and the reporter’s job is not to scare the reader away with an all-encompassing gloom.