Trial by media a dangerous trend
What, pray, is the exact role of the media? The standard answer is well-known to be repeated: it is to inform, educate and entertain. And in what proportion? There lies the rub. Nobody seems to know or, for that matter, care to know. Every day I read ten dailies, every week journals that I can lay my hands on like India Today, Frontline, Week and magazines dealing with sports, cinema, women (yes, women), style, fashion, extraordinary people and yes, even publications like Pride, People and AVMAX.
I understand that Economic Times continues to be the undisputedly leading business daily and has moved up a notch in the elite league of top-10 English newspapers strictly according to readership. Incidentally it carries my favourite columnist, Vittal Nadkarni whose column I never miss. Its average issue readership (AIR) of 7,85,000 puts it in the seventh position, ahead by 2,86,000 of its three nearest rival newspapers. I now learn that Hindustan Times is now on iPad. Announcing it, the paper says: “Blip through to get breaking news, analysis, gossip, videos and photo galleries. Get the feel of a cricket match or a fashion show through life-size pictures. Feat on blogs written by over 15 HT editors. Unwind and check out our Ieisure section: it is packed with movie and gadget reviews, celebrity gossip, interviews, trailers and a lot more….” Forget the iPad. That is one of the papers I compulsorily read. It is colour, colour, colour all the way. Yes, it is full of big picture, gossip and alleged celebrities and I keep wondering who the dickens they are and what is their contribution to society. And I further keep wondering whether the educated poor – those, in urban India, for instance, who earn about Rs 32 a day – every ‘flip’ through the pages, to learn – get educated, I mean – about Deepika Padukone and others of her ilk. It makes me sick.
The so-called ‘national papers’ have little time and much less space, for serious news. The excuse is made that the readership of the national papers is urban and there is no reason why any space should be given to rural events. Fair enough; our newspapers are in business; not in providing education. Urban readers are supposedly interested in the affairs of film stars, about the dresses they wear and the individuals they go out with. Who cares for the poor or for the suffering they undergo daily? Incidentally, do celebrities engage Publicity Agents to get their pictures published? Do newspapers charge for their publication? If so, how much? In this connection I have one grouse that I want to ‘ventilate’ which the Oxford Dictionary says it means: “discuss an opinion or issue in public”. My quarrel is with those who refer to female film stars as ‘actors’. Sure, ‘actor’ is neutral; anyone, male or female, who acts is an ‘actor’. But again, the Oxford Dictionary, speaks of a female actor is an ‘actress’. Will our newspaper editors, or sub-editors (if this genre still exists), kindly note this? Shabana Azmi or, yes, Deepika Padukone, acts. But will our great dailies kindly call them actresses and not actors? The latter is an insulting comment on the female of the species. And fashion be damned.
One of the magazines I am an avid reader of its One India One People published by the One India One People Foundation because of its high quality writing. I note that its October issue carries a series of articles on the media, both print and electronic. Abhay Mokashi, one of the contributors says “trial by media is on the rise, which is a dangerous trend as it would mean challenging the judicial system and also taking over the role of the executive or the legislative wing of democracy”. As Mokashi sees it, “it is not for the media to deliver justice, but even those who are trying to do so ought to remember that this could be disastrous when it is in the hands of immature people”. He adds: “Those playing the role of the judiciary need to answer why they were silent when there were charges against some journalists, following the leaking of the infamous Radia Tapes”.
Incidentally, one doesn’t know why the media has remained silent in the matter of charges levied against Sudheendra Kulkarni, a friend of mine who I hold in the highest respect. I cannot imagine Sudheendra doing anything wrong. Why hasn’t the media stood up for him? Is it criminal to be a whistle blower? Then there is a contribution from another friend of mine, PK Ravindranath who has been in the news business for well over six decades. He writes: “Media is supposed to be fair, frank and just. Today it seems, to be just the opposite as Page 3 Culture, unprofessionaism, commercialisation and blind race to gain TRPs have crept in like never before. Will there be an end to it or is the downslide here to stay?”
I would like to quote a para from his article that is especially relevant. He writes: “In pre-computer days, the humble typewriters and teleprinters kept newsrooms ticking 24×7. Copies produced by both machines along with reporters’ copies were subjected to minute scrutiny by trained sub-editors. Major newspapers had their own rewrite desks, where raw copies were subbed and re-written to ensure readability and to ease out redundancies, errors and at times to ‘kill’ copy that did not make the grade as hard news, Today a reporter produces his copy on the computer, ensures he gets a byline (even for footling stories) and clicks it to the news editor. Hard pressed for time or even lazy, that worthy puts it as it is on the page lay-out by professional page designers or layout artists. The reporter’s copy goes in complete with mistakes, repetitions and other discrepancies”.