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August 06, 2006
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August 06, 2006

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Home > 2006 Issues > August 06, 2006

Media Watch

The Day Of Entertainment Journalism

Is the reader?let alone the ?average? reader?happy with what goes in the English media today? The answer is apparently not, especially if one reads former Chief Vigilance Commissioner N. Vittal?s article in a recent issue of Bhavan?s Journal (June 30). It is a longish article but its central theme is that ?journalism is losing touch with reality?. And he has a point there.

According to Shri Vittal, a special problem faced by journalists these days relates to journalism itself becoming a separate world by itself. As he sees it, ?The Page 3 culture can make people live in a make-believe world (and) as a result, instead of journalism connecting people, it may result in the people losing touch with reality through the media.? In his article Shri Vittal noted that ?in the print media or the electronic, glamour has become a part of day-to-day life? and that has led to the development of the Page 3 culture. It was the crystallisation of the concept articulated by Andy Warhol that in the future ?everyone will be famous for 15 minutes?.

The combination of television and Page 3 cultures has had a very curious impact on political parties, which want to be in the public eye all the time. In the past that involved leg work, physically meeting people and pressing the flesh. But thanks to the electronic media and the print media it has become possible to reach a wide audience without having to undergo the drudgery of travelling along dusty roads or doing the donkey-work involved to get results.

The net result, according to Vittal is that ?the top leadership of political parties tend to get hypnotised by the media and in the process they tend to lose touch with reality.? That, of course, is true. Gandhiji, like Jawaharlal Nehru, travelled extensively in the country facing all sorts of hardships. Their main mode of travel was the railway, which they used extensively. And then they had to travel often on country roads by car. To be a leader was a tough job. Gandhi, Nehru, even Indira Gandhi were seen in flesh and blood by millions, but millions more never had a chance to see them in person, in part because they travelled by rail and only those who lived along railway routes could have a glimpse of leaders.

Today millions can see their leaders, thanks to television and, yes, Page 3. Shri Vittal is not at all happy with the latter, not only because of the social projection but because of ?the expert and subtle manipulation of image and perceptions to influence people?. Most people, according to him ?are guided by perceptions?. Even more tragically, common people do not have the time to go to the root of every problem and in fact, perception shapes their views of life.

It is interesting that a former Chief Vigilance Commissioner has taken time to write on the media, which only shows the importance of the media as such. It is really the lesser known media that deal with important matters. It is this media, which deals with hard facts and subtle analysis. To be well-informed these days one has to read weeklies like Mainstream and Economic & Political Weekly. How many dailies in India, for instance, have taken note of the fact that this is the thirtieth anniversary of the imposition of Emergency in India? Foes anyone care? Mainstream did.

The UPA government published a ?Report To The People? on what it has achieved between 2004 and 2006 what it has in mind for the next four years. Either the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting has not taken the trouble to send complimentary copies to all editors?which it should routinely have done?or the government?s performance is so poor that no one really cares.

But there again Mainstream (May 20) did a good job of analysing the UPA Government?s two-year performance only to find that it only reflects ?Reason Wounded, Trust Betrayed?.

Mainstream is a Leftist weekly?it was started by Nikhil Chakravarty (Nikhilda to his friends) and it has some sharp things to say about the UPA?s record. Consider some of the points raised by Bharat Dogra in his article:

  • The Congress seems incapable, perhaps unwilling to make use of this heaven sent opportunity to win back the trust of the Indian masses, which was once its for the asking.

  • A good beginning appeared to have been made with the belated enaction of the legislation on national rural employment guarantee scheme but this law did not live to earlier expectations and its implementation has been even weaker.

  • A comprehensive law to provide many-sided social security to all unorganised sector workers has been delayed for too long.

  • There is the larger failure of no new initiatives?particularly in the area of land reforms?which can provide sustainable livelihood to the poorest land-less people.

  • There is no major initiative to provide minimum wages and occupational safety to millions of industrial workers and mining workers who toil without the minimal occupational safety.

  • There has been no major relief yet for forest workers and forest produce gatherers or for the millions threatened with displacement from so-called protected areas.

  • The government?s recent announcements to help the downtrodden are welcome but increasingly the pro-reservation announcements appear to be opportunistic than well planned.

And so on. Mainstream has no reason to be anti-UPA but it understands its responsibilities as a serious journal whose duty is not so much to entertain as much as to educate and inform. It is a pleasure to read it. Most of the time, it appears that editors of the English media are afraid to say anything negative about the UPA government. Practically everything written about the so-called Indo-US Nuclear Cooperation Agreement is pro-government when many Indian nuclear scientists are reportedly very chary, if not upset, with some of its clauses. This hardly finds mention in the English media. This is a new development, which if not brought to the attention of the public may cause grave harm to the nation. Do we have to live in perpetual fear of the Government? What then is the media meant for? To entertain us with colour, violence and sex week after week and month after month? And to forget what is relevant to our lives and times?

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