Where is the media heading?


Varghese Koshy

Times are such that today even journalists admit that the mainstream media are on its deathbed! However, we wouldn’t agree if someone were to say that journalism is dead or that it’s dying. Journalism is in fact thriving, though its contours have changed (for the better, should one say?).
But the pertinent question here is why is death staring at the mainstream media. Who is to blame, that is if someone ought to be blamed. As journalists we are required to answer these basic questions, for we are duty-bound to ask questions and also find answers to the questions we ask.
It’s easy to blame the management of newspapers and TV channels for the rot that has set in today’s media. However, 1 feel, apportioning blame on the management is to a great extent a convenient mode of escapism.
Why do I say that? To answer this, we would have to ask a number of questions first.
Why did Indian journalists covering the Nepal earthquake behave so shamelessly? Why do journalists in this country have to be flag-waving jingoists like our politicians? Is it our job to please the powers that be, even if it means being ridiculed?
The Indian government was quick to react with relief efforts sending in military planes with supplies and men to help just after the devastating quake struck our tiny northern neighbour on April 25. According to Times of India, our country had over 700 personnel conducting search-and-rescue efforts on the ground, followed by China (168), Bangladesh (140) and the US (120).
Hordes of Indian journalist too landed in that country apparently with the aim of doing a thorough job. However, the job turned out to be too thorough for comfort that the non-stop coverage was criticized for being “insensitive” and often barbaric. TV reporters were accused of “shoving microphones at suffering victims,” according to Times of India. As per that newspaper, the reporters even “intruded into family cremations and questioned grieving relatives.”
Such rude and impervious behaviour naturally drew criticism. Facebook and Twitter had the rude message #GoHomeIndianMedia trending on them. Derisive jokes and tweets were the order of the day. And it was not Nepalese alone who cried horse, bashing the insensitive and jingoistic Indian media, people in this side of the border too joined in, not finding the coverage amusing or charitable.
“Your media and media personnel are acting like they are shooting some kind of family serials,” Nepalese writer Sunita Shakya wrote in an open letter to the Indian media. “If your media person can reach the places where the relief supplies have not reached at this time of crisis, can’t they take a first- aid kit or some food supplies with them as well?” he asked.
What prompted such over enthusiasm? Competition, of course. The TV crew of all channels were keen to be seen as the first to reach certain places, the first to cover a certain news, etc. And they were reportedly battling it out with the ‘others’ to be the first among the lot to film the rescue operations undertaken by the Indian Army. The Hindu reported that one TV reporter had told its correspondent that “too many journalists had kept making trips on the Army chopper”. And according to this guy, “I also got the sense last week that because of all this coverage, many Nepalese had started feeling that India is acting like some sort of a big brother.”
The media was accused of being triumphalist, as if they were there right behind a conquering Army. Prior to this it was only the Western media that had been accused of such conceited behaviour “while covering events in developing countries”.
Here I come back to my earlier questions: why did the media behave as it did? Surely no management would have urged these reporters to behave as they did in Nepal. However, the “demanding” TRP-driven editor would have made their lives miserable had they not behaved as they did. These guys sitting in their swanky offices in big cities are there to bring in advertisement revenue to the company they work in. He/she is not worried or sensitive about what happens on the ground as long as the newspaper sells or the TRP rating of his/her channel goes up. For this his/her company pays him/ her cartons of money (often much more than all his staff put together). Hence, they more often than not behave like the supervisors in old tea plantations in British India. Yes, he/she is often just a glorified “mastry”.
Those at the helm in Indian newspapers are often chosen for their policing capabilities and not because they are good journalists. They are seldom good writers, or good at rewriting or editing, nor do they have imagination or understand what news is. I have often felt that such people should be recruited to the police force as their place is not the newspaper office, where sensitive, intelligent and knowledgeable men and women should sit.
However, not all is lost. The ‘mastrys’ in this profession and the media houses they represent would soon find themselves in the dustbins of history. A new kind of journalism is taking over. The social media is powerful enough to bring you news and views from any part of the world at any time of the day. Hence, people are going to prefer them to the antediluvian outfits pedalling archaic journalism. And journalism students should be happy that they can become true journalists on their own without having to depend on media houses. Venturing out would however require a lot of guts and gumption. Yes, it’s a brave new world.