Something is grievously wrong with the media, both electronic and print. The print media seems especially facing a deep decline. According to the latest figures produced by the Indian Readership Survey whose Round I results for 2007 were declared towards the end of March, the newspaper industry has hit a rather turbulent patch. Its readership reportedly has taken a surprising tumble and figures for 2006 seem to indicate a fall in readership of most English language dailies and magazines.
As a media commentator, Sunil Saxena (Indian Express) recently noted, ?this is the first time, in almost a decade, that a national survey has shown a decline in newspaper readership.? It is not clear whether the readership fall is confined strictly to English language newspapers and journals but not to Indian language newspapers.
Shri Saxena quotes a recent FICCI Pricewaterhouse Coopers report showing that the Indian advertising industry has grown from Rs 9,500 crore in 2002 to Rs 15,000 crore in 2006. Obviously, finance-wise, the media has much to be happy about. But, at the same time, news standards are falling precipitously as was evident from the attention given to the Bachchan-Aishwarya Rai marriage, both by the print and electronic media. Admitted that Bachchan junior and Aishwarya Rai are well-known figures in Bollywood, but one has never seen the kind of stampede one noticed on the screen, of photographers and camera-men running riot in front of the Bachchan residence in Juhu.
A marriage is a private affair and the privacy of the couple getting married has to be respected. The photographers especially have to behave themselves in a dignified manner; such good manners were conspicuous by their absence and in one melee that could have been avoided, half a dozen photographers were physically assaulted. This does not reflect well on the profession. There have been celebrity marriages in the past which were duly photographed and recorded for posterity, but the conduct of cameramen on this particular occasion has exceeded all bounds of decency.
The electronic media turned the occasion into a royalty event and the time and attention given to all the pre and post-marriage ceremonies went beyond the realm of decency and common sense.
Similar attention, it would have been noticed is being given to what a novice in politics, Rahul Gandhi has been saying and doing. Rahul is not Prince Charles, though he may fancy himself to be one. He doesn'tdeserve the attention given to him by the media even if it is claimed, as a matter of argument, that he is the anointed successor of the Nehru-Gandhi clan is and accepted Congress aspirant to a possible Prime Ministerial throne.
India may boast that it is the largest democracy in the world, but its thinking as reflected in the media, is still feudal and bespeaks a standard respect and awe for a new ascending royalty. What Abhishek Bachchan is to the film industry, Rahul is to contemporary politics. Even Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has been pressed into giving a certificate of merit to this young man's noticeable aspirations. It is an unheard of thing: Even Jawaharlal Nehru was careful to pretend that he was not pushing his daughter to the heights in the party political hierarchy. The reason for this new development, one suspects, is because, faced with the thought of falling circulation, our newspapers and weeklies are resorting to sensationalism?and that, too, of the most vulgar kind. Granting that self-defence is a natural instinct in the process of which normally unacceptable standards are excusable, the manner in which the Bachchans were deprived to their privacy by an intruding media calls for condemnation. In the end, Amitabh Bachchan felt it necessary to apologies to the media but it should have been the other way round: The media should have apologised to the Bachchans.
Have we lost our sense of decency and self-respect? The usual argument is that the public wants to know more about the ceremonies conducted and how the Bachchans look. And that public figures have no right to privacy. It is this approach that needs to be questioned. A public figure has as much right to privacy as any other individual?a point that needs to be stressed again and again. If the Bachchans go to Tirupathi, they again have a right for total privacy. They are there to pray and it is and exceedingly private moment in their lives that no one has the right to invade. There are certain rules of conduct, unwritten and unsaid that must be obeyed and it is sad that news editors are not imposing such restrictions on their staff. In the process the very concept of news is cheapened to a point when news becomes vulgarity. There are certain lines that should not be crossed and it is not for the police to draw them. These Laxman rekhas are ones that should be self-drawn to maintain not only one'sprofessional dignity but to respect the solemnity of an occasion. Births, marriages and deaths are such occasions where a person'sprivacy should be held inviolable. It is not for the media to transgress on the privacy of an individual, howsoever well-known, on such occasions.
What is now becoming more and more clear is that the media?both print and electronic?need to find ways to redefine news. Granting that it is not going to be easy and that competition is pushing mediamen to make a nuisance to themselves, it is still important that editorial offices give some deep thought to self-regulatory rules that could be broken only at great cost to themselves and their standing in society. Here'swhere institutions like the All India Newspaper Editors Conference (AINEC) or the Press Council come in the picture.
There should be some kind of general agreement on reportorial behaviour during such special occasions as marriages and funerals. This is especially relevant in the instance of television and radio coverage.
One noticed correct behaviour when, for instance, Indira Gandhi got married or when the Mahatma'sfuneral took place. Dignity and decorum were observed. To say that times have changed and with the change in times reportorial behavious is bound to change, is to make a mockery of journalism. The fall in standards is there for all to see and it needs to be arrested before journalism is seen not as an honourable profession for the education and enlightenment of society and the common good of all but as a commercial venture where the bully, the pusher and shover comes out the winner. Recent events must serve as an eye-opener.