SO the watchdog is being watched. It is important, in this connection, to be mindful of what Frontline (August 12) has to say about “Murdo chisation” of the Indian media. A powerful article in the journal written by Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Alice Seabright Sharply points out that the STAR Group’s channels have been leading the way in developing media content that is “sensationalist”, emphasising on sex and celebrity as well as the three Cs—crime, cricket and cinema. Except for a couple of national dailies, practically all of them carry pages after pages of pictures of “celebrities” making one wonder what journalism has come to. Who are these people to get so much publicity and to what purpose? Is this publicity paid for? If so, who makes the payment: the so-called celebrities themselves or the hosts who invite them to attend parties? Shouldn’t this be a matter of public investigation? These ‘celebrities’ can hardly be any models for the young, considering the way they are poorly dressed. They should be ashamed of themselves. One Kolkata daily, unbelievable though it may sound, once carried in one single issue, nineteen pictures of bikini-clad girls and the editor must have thought he had done a great PR job. Guha and Seabright refer to sensationalism that is being encouraged, especially in television media.
Sometime ago, The New Indian Express carried an article by Subramaniam Swamy which has been damned as carrying “extreme xenophobic right-wing thoughts” and there is a demand to have him arrested. Swamy may have crossed the Laxman-rekha in a small measure and it has been strongly criticised in some intellectual sections. It would have been more to the point if a channel like CNN-IBN had carried out a survey of the middleclass to find out how many agreed with Swamy; it might have been in for some shocking surprise. Swamy, one learns, has spoken out for many who have got tired of the constant terrorist attacks on Mumbai and other places but the best way to condemn him would have been to ignore him. But no, that would be losing an opportunity to indulge in sensationalism. Fancy what a good story it would be to see Swamy in the docks. The media takes on itself to decide what needs publicity and what is best ignored and invariably it takes the wrong road.
One is reminded of what a former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair described the media as: a “feral beast”, an unruly pack of hungry animals. The tendency to provide ‘news’ without providing the background to a ‘happening’ seems to be growing as Guha himself has noted. Breaking News is now the fashion. Guha refers to Aaj Tak of the TV Today group launching a channel called Tez meaning ‘fast’ with the tag line khabrein phataphat (snappy news). Providing ‘snappy news’ must be strongly condemned because such news can be not only misleading, but highly damaging. Few attempts are ever made to go deep into a subject, as, for example, do journals like Frontline, outlook or The Week. What is disquieting is the growth of television channels, each vying with others to not just be first with the news, but first with sensational news in order to catch public attention. Fancy having 600 channels to start with! There is no shortage of channels; the shortage is in a sense of responsibility, the approach being not so much to instruct, but, in the words of a 19th century American journalists, “to startle”, to rouse passions, never mind if minds get poisoned and hatred sours hearts. The excuse is: “We have captured attention, haven’t we?”. As the saying goes; Bijness is bijness. What is important is sale of news and increase of revenues. Education is for the birds.
On July 18, The Times of India carried a quarter page advertisement by Mathrubhumi, the self-styled ‘national daily in Malayalam’ claiming that it has added 1.63 lakh new readers in the previous quarter. The ad said: “Mathrubhumi has recorded 20 times more growth than its nearest competitor – taking its readership to a staggering 68 lakh” – certainly an achievement the paper can be proud of. Kerala must be having the highest literacy rate in all of India and, considering the amount of money repatriated from outside, about the highest per capita income. But let it be recorded that it is not Mathrubhumi alone that has been doing outstandingly well.
According to The Media Research User’s Council which has released the Quarter 4 data for the Indian Readership Survey 2010, the top-line results show growth for most of the dailies. The Hindi daily Dainik Jagran leads with an average readership figure of 16,066,000. The Number Two most read daily is Dainik Bhaskar which has grown from a 13,950,000 readership to 13,992,000. Hindustan, similarly, has grown from an Average Indian Readership (AIR) of 10,839,000 to 11,452,000. The Malayalam daily Malayala Manorama may have seen a marginal decline, but nevertheless continues to be the fourth most read daily with an AIR of 9,930,000. Amar Ujala’s AIR is now 8,640,000 and that of the Marathi daily Lokmat 7,712,000. The Times of India’s AIR is 7,424,000, thus taking the seventh spot. Providing all this information, Vidura, a journal of the Press Institute of India (April/June 2011) notes that Hindi dailies command a significant share of readership in India.
Interestingly, the top three Kannada dailies, Vijaya Karnataka, Prajavani and Kannada Prabha registered an AIR increase of 50,000, 2.70 lakh and 1.22 lakh. Sandesh, incidentally, has come up with a 3D edition in Ahmedabad, a 16-page supplement showcasing advertisements in 3-dimenstional views for which special glasses have been provided to readers. Whatever the progress of our national dailies, the fact that many have been recipients of payment for published news has roused the government sufficiently for it to appoint a Media Certification and Monitoring Committee (MCMC) to keep a watch of all advertisements, political coverage and likely ‘paid news’ during election time.