Thursday, August 26, 2010

Media Monster...

Recently saw “Peepli Live” and that revived an old issue in my mind that was bubbling to come out: Social irresponsibility of Media.

There used to be a time in my early childhood, when Doordarshan was the only practical source of news from all over India and the world. It being a government enterprise, the news there used to be pretty serious, more or less authentic information.

Then came the age of a plethora of news channels: Aaj Tak, CNN-IBN, Star News, NDTV, Zee news, India TV, TimesNow and so on. With it, came crazy competition and thus a mad rat race to get the tiniest chunk of TRP they can possibly get, and thus, a complete disregard for any kind of work ethics this profession demands.

First, scrambling to get enough material for a 24-hour news channel, these channels filled up their programs with ridiculously stupid, insignificant news, unnecessarily dramatizing it. Showing same old reports every 10 minutes (with possibly a 20 second video clip which they would show at least a 100 times) was yet another ploy. If you watched them more than a few times during 2-3 hour duration, you could possibly recite the whole of their news report, as by that time you would basically remember every line.

As if this was not irritating enough, they started sensationalizing every tiny bit of unimportant news details. Then came an age of Live or breaking news. The worst part was that the common people actually liked watching them!

Until this point, whatever News channels did could be rationalized by their popularity. They can surely ask the question: “Who are you to question us if people in general are liking what we are showing?”. Fine! I do not have any grounds except for a mature idea about what is worthwhile to be shown as news. But if market forces are stronger than a sane mind, nobody can do much.

But then, it slowly enters a grey category. And depiction in Peepli live, which falls into this, was what primarily made me coherently write my thoughts here. Media, being ignorant or just greedy, sometimes helps increase social problems. Initially, I had thought this was only present in Indian media until my ignorance about American politics was recently brushed away by controversies about Fox news and its bias against democrats. This made me realize that this problem is, if not universal, definitely not restricted to India. Political bias (it being just one of the examples of things in this grey category) by media is common in many other countries too.

Still, if one does that within legal limitations (something Fox News apparently has not achieved doing, as far as I know), it is probably off the hook, except for allegations of breach of moral responsibilities of a media entity. Surely, they won’t be following work ethics as expected from a news channel, newspaper, magazine or any media source, but they won’t be punishable legally.

Then come the worst in the lot! And this made my blood boil (and I am sure tons of people like me were equally disturbed): November 26, 2008: Mumbai and the whole of country were in utter shock of terror attacks. While the operation was still going on, with terrorists still under siege, hundreds of innocent people still waiting in terror inside those buildings, many brave officers and soldiers trying to save those innocent lives, and Indian media showed utter disregard for their social responsibilities, capturing each and every tiny bit of movement of Indian soldiers, practically helping the terrorists in their plan. Of course, it was stupid on the part of government to even allow any media within 100 meters of the site, but news channels proved that they are hungry for every tiny bit of TRP they get, that they care shit about lives of those innocent people inside, and those trying to fight for their country’s security. Any person sitting in front of TV that day could have known the exact information about how many Indian soldiers were trying to attack those buildings, from where, when and with what weapon and a school-going child could have guessed that this might actually hurt our efforts to save innocent people and fight those terrorists. And those holding masters and Ph.D.s in journalism and probably decades of experience in the field did not have a clue (or acted as if they did not have a clue) that they were actually helping terrorists.

This, in my opinion, is the worst ever example of lack of social responsibility. Before this, the stakes were low. All of what they were doing, at least the most of it, was within legal limitations. But then you see utterly disgusting examples like these, and you really start worrying about the future of media and its ill-effects on contemporary society.

Coming to what triggered all these thoughts in my mind, Peepli Live did an excellent job of taking a satirical view on things, making the contradiction very clear, and that too really effectively. It touches up a serious issue in a mockingly funny manner, making one realize the existence of a monster we’ve created. Definitely worth a watch, and makes one contemplate for sure...