With the advent of 24 X 7 electronic media, ‘Breaking News’ is the most striking feature. What we are witnessing in last few years in India, especially since the last general elections till the latest Delhi assembly elections is ‘breaking’ of news to favour or oppose particular political disposition. This approach has shaken the very foundation of role and ethics of journalism.
Bias in commentary is a violation of the basic principle of journalistic ethics but what we are seeing in the age of media war is media groups, branded by their star anchors are not news givers or opinion makers but opinion imposers, news makers and judges. Take for instance one sided vilification of PM Modi before 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Till he managed to capture the popular imagination and forced media to cover his each and every movement, electronic media left no stone unturned in demonising him. Till recently, the same media, unable to find any faults with the policies of the centre, was in full praise and coverage of NDA government’s initiatives. The moment Delhi election was declared, their tone and temper has changed. Not only through daily TV bulletins but also through their twitter handles and facebook pages they have almost started campaigning for Aam Aadmi Party. They tried their bit even during the Lok Sabha elections by creating hype of Kejriwal phenomenon in Varanasi. During reporting on Delhi elections, support declared by some religious groups to BJP was vehemently questioned while the open pitching of archrivals to each other in Bengal, CPM and Trinamool Congress, was not even properly reported. What is broadcasted in the name of opinion polls and surveys in the last few days is not only deliberate misinformation campaign but gross violation of journalist conduct during elections. In the last few days, another pet project that electronic media has seems to have adopted is making JD (U) leader Nitish Kumar a national figure.
Of course, every journalist and broadcaster has a right to have opinion. They can also adhere to their ideological positions. Media’s right to question the establishment and making informed public opinion with plurality of views is the most sacrosanct right in democracy. What has crept in electronic media is activism rather than journalism. With own agenda to fulfill, the basics of ‘objective reporting’ is missing. The interventions of media owners with their financial clout are more worrisome. The main work of media is mediation for disseminating information with objective coverage. Without that media loses its credibility. As special socio-economic agencies, media’s entrepreneurial objective is limited to providing a fundamental right of information to citizens. What, electronic media is trying to be is either a spokesman or adversary of one or the other political outfits. In the process they are either hiding important information or distorting facts.
While questioning the issue of transparency in all other sectors, media’s transparent behaviour is under scrutiny with the numbers they are floating during elections. There is a need to draw clear lines of distinction between news and opinions. Opinions loaded with thoughts, ideas, beliefs or value judgments cannot be presented as news. Substance and truthfulness supported by verified proofs is the soul of news, which needs to be restored. Otherwise, ‘breaking news’ phenomenon will break the basic purpose of news and turn it into a fiction.