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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.

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