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Geek by profession, thinker/writer/artist by passion. Part-time blogger,social media enthusiast and a tramp by nature :) A Man Of Mud


Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Advent Of News Entertainment Inc.

Posted by: danish Ahmed 1:38 AM

The Noida double murder case has sent the media into a frenzy raising a lot of questions, including some legitimate ones. Let us not forget that if at all there has been any break-throughs in the investigation, the credit for it goes to the media. From what is apparent, the police made every effort to abandon investigation and close the case but the media's unblinking gaze on the investigation forced the police to act.
Arushi/Hemraj murder case is one of those very few news items that get equal coverage in both vernacular and English news channels but the difference in the standard of journalism between the two is stark. While the English language news channels have not been able to balancing the issue correctly, one cannot even contemplate Hindi media reporting the case maturely. After all, this case has all the elements that TV reporters can only dream of. It is not surprising to find Hindi news channels focus on the elements of adultery, illicit relationship, mystery and honor killing, these are the elements they sometimes have to invent to make their programmes on crime reporting appear alluring. Coming back to the criticism of the Hindi visual media, especially on crime reporting one need be a regular viewer to write on them, infrequent glimpses during channel surfing are enough to get on the nerves. The quality of journalism can be known from the news bulletins themselves and exclusive but regular programs on crimes and investigation.

One of the first things that catches your attention is most likely to be the reporter/anchor of the show. It requires a fair amount of intelligence (or experience) to realise that the host is not trying to threaten or intimidate the viewers but is actually a failed actor trying to play the difficult role of a compere of a street show-cum- reporter. Like C-grade Bollywood movies, the title of these programs are chosen more to arouse perverse curiosity and promise cheap thrills than report crimes or other news events. Certain news channels have even given up all pretensions of journalism, and unabashedly employ cheap tactics to attract attention. A couple of channels have even begun dressing up their actors/reporters in police costumes to make the show more attractive and realistic (?).

Other programs reporting on exclusive stories employ similar visual effects, exaggerated story lines and dialogues, hysteria-stricken actors/reporters and apocalyptic or euphemistic captions. Most of the times the visual effects/graphics are so grotesquely naive that a 10 year old kid's creation comes across as more professional. The content in programs dedicated to crime reporting typically has to do something with sexual crimes, real or imaginary, dug out from the nondescript alleys of small towns to the glittering world of celebrities and tycoons.

The plot is reconstructed with the help of wannabe actors and every attempt is made to add cheap thrills and sleaze to the story. It is really difficult to decide whether the content is more perverse or the presentation is. Recently there have been two huge natural disasters, in Burma and China, resulting in deaths of more than a hundred thousand and leaving millions more homeless but our media did not consider the event worthy of a 30 seconds coverage while a high profile celebrities wedding or any another functions are aired non-stop the entire period. After celebrities, it is the gangsters, criminals and crooks who figure second in vernacular media's priority list. These gangsters and outlaws thrive on fear of the common people, by according them constant attention the media ends up glamorizing crime and making them more powerful then they already are. All this in the name of fighting crimes !

When talking on crime reporting and sensationalism one cannot ignore the role that sting operations and reality TV play in Hindi news channels. This form of investigative journalism has been in more than one instance used to trap known personalities with the help of honey-pots. Most of the times these sting operations are conducted more to capture clandestine activities on camera rather than highlight a wrong-doing. However, I must mention here that after the infamous sting operation on Delhi school teacher who was later found to having been falsely implicated because of personal enmity, TV channels have become cautious. But media's obsession with video-tape and live feeds continues unabated only the focus has shifted from sting operations to criminal investigation and reality TV. It has in many instances this obsession been used to convert non-issues into national issues and personal tragedies into reality shows. This lust for video-tape also results in Indian news channels promoting voyeurism and invading the privacy of celebrities and common people alike.

For a section of sexually starved population torn between conservative paradigm and forces of globalization these news channels provide the much needed sleaze without any explicit content. Indian conservatism does not allow sexual permissiveness or openness of any sort but it has not shown aversion to liberalization or globalization either. This has created a peculiar situation where we seek titillation and sexual thrill without violating our self-created rules. It is for this reason that an alternative ( magazines and movies) industry has always existed that seeks to repackage sleaze and other taboo subjects with crime and investigation, supernaturalism and stories since explicit sexuality is so looked down upon by our queerly moralistic society. Often, graphic details or dramatisation of sexual crimes are done for the very purpose that they seek to condemn. However, these magazines and movies were available in the market, it was on the individual if s/he wanted to buy it or not. For all purposes these materials were never given any sort of respectability but the same sleaze and cheap thrill are now beamed into our drawing rooms.

I wonder if an article on Hindi media can be complete without a reference to the Great Khali.
This 7-foot professional wrestler from Himachal Pradesh is a great favorite of almost all Hindi news channels. Khali has been transformed to something of a national hero after his successes in WWE, the coverage provided to him can only be equalled by even people like Sachin Tendulkar or Shahrukh Khan.

Well, creating a national hero out of someone who excels in a particular sport is not wrong but is it a sport and are these channels being truthful? WWE stands for World Wrestling Entertainment , it is a sports entertainment company that combines sports with theatrics to make it more glamorous and appealing. The sport is real (or should I say the blood is real) but the matches are scripted. What it essentially means is that the entire show is scripted and rehearsed, right from the pre-match challenges and histrionics to the actual results, everything has been premeditated. When the media reports it as a genuine sport it is misrepresenting facts and spreading lies. It realizes that a section of its population, especially, the lower middle class is in need of heroes and icons and to meet it and in the process raise their own TRPs, these news channels resort to lies and misrepresentation.

Similar factually incorrect and misleading news items have been aired but nothing has worked as well as Khali's exploits in WWE. So the pertinent question here would be what is common between Hindi news channels and WWE? The answer to this question is simple even if elusive. If WWE can be called sports entertainment because of the use of theatrics and glamour then Hindi news channels too can be categorised as pseudo-journalism or news entertainment. When the mainstream media indulges in such pseudo-journalism, it bodes ill for democracy.

Posted By danish Ahmed 1:38 AM

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Great Indian Media Tamasha: Hindi News Channels and Fortune-Telling

Posted by: danish Ahmed 6:21 PM

Media's penchant for sensationalism is by no means a new phenomenon. Ever since tabloids were first published in the U.K. sensationalizing news events, publishing unverified reports, gossip columns and celebrity news, became a part of the media. However, they never posed a serious threat to mainstream newspaper because the readers were aware of the fact that tabloids had more to do with entertainment than serious journalism. Tabloid journalism never gained a similar foothold in India in the first fifty years of independence, conservative Indian society did not allow the same level of openness and irreverence that is so essential in tabloid journalism. Even in the post- liberalization era tabloid journalism was not successful except for national dailies publishing entertainment news and celebrity gossip in what is now popularly called page 3 news. However, with the advent of satellite television tabloid journalism in India has found a new face in Hindi and vernacular news media especially the visual media. It soon degenerated into something which is yet to be defined.

Before proceeding further, it would pertinent to mention here that I am not absolving English media channels from yellow journalism, but most would agree that their shortcomings are of different nature (not taking into account the journalistic standard of Headline Today, whose content often seem to be English translations of its Hindi language sister channel Aaj Tak) . Among others, TimesNow, a Times Group venture seem to be eyeing at the neocon segment, going by the way it covers issues. At this point I must say that watching its star host Arnab Goswami, does seem entertaining at times. Seems, the poor guy cannot keep his emotions outside the newsdesk. His mannerism, which can be called arnabism, includes talking more than all the guests combined and a self-righteous rage which often take debates far out of context. 

But the damage that Hindi news channels seem to inflict is far mpre dangerous than "arnabism" or any other ism, the former attack  rationality and scientific thought which can be disastrous for the Indian society in the future. In my previous post I wrote on the declining standards of the Hindi news channels, now I intend to elaborate on certain aspects of the issue that I had deliberately omitted for the sake of brevity.

In this post I will write on the growing and potentially harmful trend in the Indian media is glamorization of supernaturalism and occult. The line demarcating superstition from supernaturalism is too fine, if any group of professionals should stay away from this realm then it is undoubtedly the group of tabloid journalists. Predictions based on Sun Signs and Moon Signs are a regular feature in tabloids world over but Indian news channels have taken this trend to a new level. Most channels now feature programs that claim to predict the future based on astrology, numerology, tarot card reading, cartomancy and crystallomancy. The latest addition to the list of occultist disciplines glamorized by the media is the study of mobile phone ringtones' influence in daily lives of the owners (I call it phonomancy). This is not a joke or a spoof, I did come across one program in a news channel last week. If the "experts" are to be believed, religious ringtones influence the cell phone owner's fortunes very much like gem-stones and amulets are supposed to do. Like most occultist devices, these religious ringtones are supposed to impart luck on the owner but before that, an expert in this area should be consulted to find out which particular religious ringtone is compatible with one's zodiac sign. I must confess that this one is one of the best instances of ingenuity, innovation and marketing strategy that I have come across in recent times. This method of fortune-telling is of recent origin and yet to catch up with the TV audience but the more popular format across news channels comprises of making fortune-telling programs based on astrology, numerology and tarot card reading. In these programs too the use of colors and graphics is deliberately loud and grotesque.

If astrology, numerology and other occultist disciplines qualify as sciences or not has been subject of many debates, I do not intend to start another one. But even those who believe astrology to be a science often argue that tabloid columns on astrological prediction harm the discipline's reputation. Indeed, if astrologers on TV and newspapers are to be believed the entire global population's future can be predicted with 12 sets of predictions! Getting a detailed and individual prediction from an astrologer is understandable but a generic horoscope-based predictions and the manner of its presentation one comes across in Hindi and vernacular news channels encourage superstition. The responsibility of news agencies is to collect only verifiable information and present it to readers. A little amount of irreverent and spiced up news item is quite palatable but presenting unverifiable information amounts to fraud.

In the same manner, programs on supernatural events are reconstructed and dramatized more to provide cheap thrills than provide explanations for the anomalies. Informative programmes on supernatural beings with grotesque imagery, over-dramatization and special effects taken straight from C-grade Hindi horror movies are a regular feature on all leading Hindi news channel. These programmes usually try to balance their views out by adding a hint of rationalism before ending but the nature of earlier misinformation is so profoundly grotesque that it makes a much larger impression on the psyche, especially that of a child.

India is being increasingly seen by the rest of the world as a rapidly developing powerhouse of science and technology but most of the popular news channels not only ignore the country’s scientific achievement but also reinforce superstition and regressive mindset. For instance, the recent successful launch of PSLV hardly got any coverage when compared to exclusive programmes on fortune-telling methods. It goes without saying that by glamorizing fortune-telling, occult and superstition these news agencies are in reality doing a great disservice to the nation and are also shirking a fundamental duty incorporated in the Constitution of India which lays down “developing scientific temper” as a fundamental duty of every Indian citizen.

(h) to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform;
( Part IVA, Fundamental Duties: Indian Constitution)

Posted By danish Ahmed 6:21 PM

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Bush Maybe Imbecile But Global Food Crisis Is Real

Posted by: danish Ahmed 1:56 PM

G.W. Bush has said that the food prices are rising because Indians are eating more. Well, what he exactly said is that as the Indian middle class which is larger in size than the entire population of the US ( after learning this during his last visit to India, Bush has never failed to show off his new found knowledge regardless of situation) is getting prosperous it is demanding better nutrition leading to higher food prices.

Wow! Did Bush work that out all by himself ?

I would have thought so had not Condy Rice expressed similar sentiments earlier, Bush's latest statement indicates that imbecelity is contagious especially in the inner circle of the American President.

These statements sound so much like the cold war era allegation that the amount of food that the USA wastes would be sufficient to feed all the hungry people of Africa. However, I am not sure if that is how world economics works.Experts opine that the current global food crisis is result of diversion of resources from food crop production to bio-fuel production and trade policies.

Bush's comment may be typically obtuse but he has inadvertently brought an important issue to the fore. Global food crisis is real and needs immediate attention. Avaaz has launched a movement to raise awareness and urge leaders to tackle the problem before it gets out of hand. Already the food prices have doubled in Sierra Leone and things are heading for the worse. If you feel like it, then please sign the petition. .

P.S.: I intended to continue postings on the declining standards of the Indian vernacular media before posting on any other topic but Bush has spoken and so I had to !

Posted By danish Ahmed 1:56 PM

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Great Indian Tamasha: Hindi News Channels

Posted by: danish Ahmed 6:02 PM

In this age of aggressive consumerism a section of the fourth estate of India is out for sale, having transformed itself into a mart of cheap sleaze and thrills, glamour, manufactured reality and superstitions.

The standard of the Indian media especially the Hindi and vernacular media is nose-diving at an alarming speed. Just a few years back, the Indian media was considered as one of the most intelligent and honest media in the world but in the aftermath of the information boom, its credibility stands thoroughly shaken. Manufacturing sensational news items through sting operations, manipulation and even through exaggeration are now passé for the Indian media, the emerging trend in news coverage in India, especially the Hindi media is one of exploiting and cultivating the regressive mindset of a large section of the population.

In the war of TRPs these news channels are more than willing to descend to the basest level of journalism as long as it helps them attract more viewers. Tune into a Hindi news channel any time of the day, you will be at the receiving end of the cheapest and sleaziest news reports that could be conceived of. Gone are the days when Hindi news bulletins consisted of impassionate and almost mundane news content with morbid apathy towards controversies. The new age media loves controversies and serenades voyeurism. Even if one were to overlook the quality of the news contents, the manner of presentation is usually too gross to be overlooked. The formula that most of these news networks rely on is pretty simple, any event or information that promises to break the monotony of real life can be considered a "breaking news" as long as it can be presented with a dash of sensationalism. But then again an oft-occurring incidence can also be presented as breaking news if it can be repackaged with lavish use of adjectives and superlatives, ghastly video, sound bytes from known personalities and everything that have the potential to create sensation around it. It doesn't really matter if the story is that of paramount national interest or of a little known wrestler, Khali, winning a well scripted and well rehearsed wrestling match in WWE, the media would simply opt for the story that can be sensationalized more. Media's penchant for sensationalism is a global phenomenon but Indian vernacular media's glamorization of regressive temperament along with its obsession for sensationalism, makes it singularly perverse.

Even if India's stories of success in the fields of science and technology are being talked world over, our own media prefers programs based on occult (astrology, numerology and tarot card reading) to stories on specific scientific achievements. But even these seem scientific and rational when compared to the "horror shows" that the news channels pass of as regular news programs. If it is unnatural for a news channel to regularly feature content on supernatural events, what the Hindi news channels indulge in is sheer travesty and intellectual blasphemy. Dramatization of unsubstantiated claims and reports with sub-standard audio and visual effects seem more like Bollywood's C-grade horror movies than news content. Vernacular news channels' obsession with the supernatural is not limited to horror shows only, reports on religious mythologies and prevalent superstitious beliefs find equal time slot on the prime time.

With information technology boom the vernacular media has been able to reach out to most of the sections of the society, consequently, its obligation to provide unbiased information and encouraging progressive outlook has only grown stronger, unsubstantiated and unverifiable content, especially information that dwell on the border of rationalism and superstition should be avoided. These content along with sleaze and cheap thrill that the vernacular media specializes adversely affect the mindset of the its viewers and encourage regressive temperament. They also have the potential to seriously damage the psyche of our kids, who are encouraged to follow news bulletins and programs to supplement education In fact, what motivated me to write this one is the fact that I found my 8-year nephew believing in superstitions in a-matter-of-fact manner simply because he had come across the information on a news channel. I am sure he would find it odd if I advice his to restrain from watching particular news channel, after all, haven’t we all been taught that news channels are more about education than entertainment ?
A peculiarity of this trend is the distressing fact that it is only the Hindi and regional languages news channels that broadcast such sub-standard news reports, the English language news channel of the same news network would have a completely different content. The best example that I can think of at the moment is TV Today's Aaj Tak and Headlines Today. The same trend can be seen in every major news network, be it Star, Sahara or IBN (The only exception IMHO is NDTV)
This observation only reinforces the belief that broadcast of sub-standard news content by the Hindi channels is a well planned marketing strategy of the media bosses and not lack of ability on the part of the professionals involved. This also implies that those higher up in the management are least bothered about journalistic ethics or quality journalism, in fact they would prefer bad journalism over quality if that helps them rake in more moolah.
It can be argued that as business organizations these news agencies are justified in taking the approach that is likely to yield more profit. But it should also be borne in mind that as an industry that exists and thrives on the basis of social interaction, it cannot wash its hand off its social responsibility. The civil society grants the press freedom to publish reports, views and opinions independently and without any interference of the State with the belief that the press would publish/broadcast material beneficial to the society. There is an unsaid agreement between the two, the media is under the obligation to abide by it. Then again there can be no question on freedom of the press or censorship, no functional democracy can afford to question it. It is the duty of the media bosses to self-censor and ensure that news contents originating from their concerns are not harmful to the society.

Posted By danish Ahmed 6:02 PM