The profound observations of Gandhiji on journalism way back in 1920s reflect that the pitfalls in ‘media circles’ is not new. The allegations that around 20 journalists were ‘managed’ by the AugustaWestland for favourable reporting on the Chopper deal has mere brought the steep downturn in the media industry of Bharat to the forefront. The trend is more serious as our ‘celebrity journalists’ were managed with foreign money and influence. The subversion tendencies in media are so blatant that people hardly believe in the message of the messenger and social media narratives define the larger perceptions. It leads to hooting of certain individuals from open platforms like twitter who do not follow the rules of the game. The question here is not of an individual or just a media group, what is under scanner is the ‘credibility’ of fourth pillar of democracy. If we analyse the trend in the context of open ‘we’ versus ‘they’ approach by electronic media from Israt Jahan case to Chopper Scam, the issue becomes more severe. If we overview the history and trend of this sharp downturn in media ethics, we may be able to pinpoint the solutions for the restoration if not return journey on certain parameters of credibility.
When the modern day journalism entered Bharat during the British Raj, the key motto was national service through presenting Bharatiya news and views on various facets of life. Many politicians turned into journalists and with contributions from society decided to run newspaper press to give voice to the voiceless. With the attainment of Independence, but obviously trade dimensions were added to the national service. Getting advertisement, both government and corporate to cross subsidise the circulation was evolved as a model. The dark phase of national Emergency brought another meaning to ‘commitment’ of various actors that included media. Still, some media houses played a pivotal role in fighting the autocratic regime but after the Emergency trade superseded the national service aspects in journalism. Media became a profit making industry and co-option by political forces became a common trend. The most important divergence from the conventional understanding of an objective and fact based journalism was the advent of electronic media. The ‘breaking news’ syndrome also broke the conventional wisdom and trade became the sole driving force of media houses. Overnight creation of celebrity faces changed the dynamics of print journalism and compromised news coverage became the set pattern. What we are witnessing now is the later stage where connivance of media in sharing the fruits of corruption with key power players in the system
Precisely, because of this the open and arguably more fact-based social media platforms gained currency and credibility in the public mind. If the so-called mainstream media or journalist continue to submit themselves the co-option, compromise, connivance and corruption the whole purpose of having media as the key messenger would be defeated. Gandhi in the same paragraph quoted above continues his logic saying, “But who would stop those that are useless? The useful and the useless must, like good and evil generally, go on together, and man must make his choice.” People are already making their choices clear. It is up to us, all responsible media actors in democracy, to whether we just want to remain as another ‘industry’ that got subdued by the system and lose our credibility forever or be ready to ‘exercise control from within’ to regain the rigour and respect media used to have for its service motive. @PrafullaKetkar