The mob has the final say
In the present scenario, much of Indian news media has been reduced to TRP chasing machine that only panders to the mob without restraint or filter
It is in fashion to talk or write about the death of a handsome, rising film star, so much so that the issue is now a national obsession. Everyone has a view, and nobody has the facts, least of all the alternate stars of our firmament, smart and sacrosanct purveyors of something called news. The entire complement of our investigative might has been deployed and the sensational trial is on display in all the TV channels. The country's problems, external or economic have been put in a pause mode, till we find a closure to this brave hero of the reel world who has been wronged by the badass Bollywood types who by the way, are the real villains in this surreal drama. The best thing about this running serial is that all we have to do is to give any dog we don't like a bad name and hang him.
The trial will go on, at least till the winners and losers in the upcoming Bihar elections go home, so it is alleged by some of the know-alls. There is also the unfinished business of discrediting the state government that keeps putting its foot in the mouth. Its ministers or supporters are not helping their cause either. Their ability to make a mountain out of a mole-hill gives oxygen to the on-going saga for another run. Can anyone ignore the din? Has our visual media gone completely rogue and lost its ethics of humanism? By all accounts, 24/7 channels desperate for TRPs, it would certainly seem so. The mob has the final word. Is this all about freedom of the press or the freedom of speech that we so preciously cherish? We are blown out of our minds with this allegate and scoot ethos, very much akin to a shooting spree. Any innocent gets hit is part of the collateral damage.
The worthies of the television world need to remember that as consumers of news we are entitled to a quality product in which fairness and faithful reporting of happenings is an essential condition of our social contract. Its own sanctity is also reliable and a singularly dependable source of transparency of governance and government actions. This social contract is in the process of daily erosion. It must be recalled that as the reading and viewing public we helplessly chaff but vocally regret any restraints on press reporting. These guardians of the fourth estate will have let down the people of this country in upholding all the freedom that we so dearly want to preserve. This theatre of the absurd must stop. An imaginative description of an event is perhaps a professional pitch but converting news into a serial drama is taking it over the top.
Fake news, advertorial news, social media circulatory gossips, WhatsApp exchanges, all of these are now threatening fair names and reputations of people in all walks of life regardless of truth and facts. Internet was meant to be a neutral platform to democratise the expression of views by the members of the citizenry. In fact, the truth has become a cause for the delirium of the masses and gets dismissed as not an element necessary for an opinion or a statement. Sure, media has to make money to survive, it's a business after all, but it cannot ignore the ethical dimension. There is an immense sympathy for the fourth estate and when they are unfairly targeted, we the people have protested. Just because the target of news is a well-known person overtaken by misfortune, there is no reason to hound him or her. Otherwise, the sentiment will easily reverse and abuses like 'presstitutes' and the milder one like, 'godi media' will abound in the popular lexicon. The profession requires getting content for the channel or a newspaper, perhaps even creative content, but certainly not creating destructive discontent. This is the ultimate sin that will singe the creator.
It is perhaps the good fortune of the news industry that there is very little 'Law of Torts' in our country. The semblance that there is, is so onerous to get justice, it might be called useless. Every attempt by the Government or the judiciary to regulate this sector has met with resistance from the people at large because more than their own freedom, they value freedom of the press. The broadcasters chose their own peers to set standards to live by. These are proving to be illusory. Not a word from their own regulator when infringements happen. The argument that the viewer wants such sensational portrayals is unethical and is devoid of logic. People want free access to porn, but the laws prevent it as harmful to the general fabric of societal behaviour. If you call yourself a news channel then you are mandated to narrate news without personal biases. Otherwise, become like the telecast of the news that wasn't. The fact that the consumer has the option to switch off or change to another, does not detract from the responsibility to protect the freedom of the press as one would have it.
We will do well to remember, revered poet Ghalib's verse on his times:
"Rau mein hai raksh-e-umr, kahan dekhiye thame; Naey haath bag par hain, na paun rakaab mein".
"The horse is in motion, let's see where it stops, the hands nor the feet in the stirrup" It's sheer recklessness riding the waves.
The writer is the Director of the India Habitat Centre. Views expressed are personal