Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Dumbing down of Media

Media – the fourth estate – the pillar of democracy – the conscience keeper of the nation. These are indeed high expectations and the current state of the Indian media indeed leaves a lot to be desired.

The media is all around us both print and increasingly digital. Media plays 3 critical roles in a vibrant democracy (democracy is the important word here – in any other form of government the media merely plays the role of being the official mouthpiece) –

1.       Information – get the correct information, report the facts, prevent misinformation campaigns.
2.       Conscience keeper - Hold the mirror to the elected representatives on their promises, bureaucrats and law enforcers on their duties, guide the society as to what is happening and desirable.
3.       Take up causes – for issues of great significance, channelize the public opinion to put the correct sort of pressure on policy makers, bring the prominent public figures and the intellectuals on the same page so as to be able to educate our masses.

Let us look at what is “desirable” from the Indian media –

Lack of depth in the coverage -
I felt really let down by the token coverage on the two very important bills passed recently – the food security bill and the land acquisition bill. Both the bills (independently) can take us back by 50 years. And what did you read in the media – either the government version (Bharat Nirmaan – beats me why it is no longer Hindustan – more of that in a different blog) or the “skimming the surface” coverage that I have read in most newspapers – done by people who are too busy to spend time to study these pieces of regressive legislation and educate the masses on the real impact that these will cause.

The debates have got increasingly meaningless and the breaking news now borders around absurd –
Either we have too many news channels OR the hosts have run out of topics to ask their participants OR the Indian public sees news channels as a source of entertainment rather than information. Either ways, it’s a race to the bottom. The sooner we get there the better, at lease things won’t get any worse from there (hopefully)

Should the older unresolved topics be reignited once in a while? (my earlier blog – 10 questions that need answers) –
Sensationalism serves the media well. The problem is that there needs to be a newer, bigger story that needs to be frequently broken. And the stories that were once sensational die down – most of the without getting resolved. It may be a good idea to dig up the old graves once in a while. Public memory is short – a refresher every 3 months will be indeed useful.

Provide a platform for the eminent personalities of the society to come together for the greater public good –
Forces multiply when united. Can the personalities working for common/parallel causes come together? Can the opinion makers work together to spread knowledge through media? The answer is yes – if the medium is correct and the cause is noble.

Be sensitive and unbiased –
Know your limits. Exercise restraint and use discretion. Refrain from asking for comments from the dear ones who have suffered a great personal loss. If you have reached a place where a tragedy has occurred or is unfolding – help those affected instead of trying to cover the same live.

Show restraint- live coverage of terrorist acts/interviews of fugitives/promoting comments of foolhardy politicians (Digvijay Singh tops the list)
The handlers of the Mumbai attackers were able to guide the terrorists inside the Taj hotel about the positions of the security forces and the rescue of the people inside the hotel because of the live coverage of the event on TV.
Several operatives of Indian Mujahideen went underground because its founders Bhatkal’s arrest was breaking news on TV.
You know some leaders have a foot in the mouth disease and talk rubbish – you will still rush to them for comments – maybe if you stopped giving them so much of importance they will stop their tamasha – Lalu is a classic example.

TOI campaign for Nirbhaya/2G/Coal Scams/Ordinance against protecting tainted MP’s -  
Some recent examples of how a market leader swung into action by launching campaigns and kept up the pressure by channelizing the public support for these causes. Great initiative indeed, applause!! If you still haven’t, give a missed call on 08067730022 for a campaign against tainted MP’s retaining their seats.

Some positive coverage please -
It is difficult to believe that only bad things are happening in the society – can we have some coverage of the small acts of kindness that are making a large difference to the lives of people. I am sure there are a lot many unsung heroes amongst us and a little positive motivation will go a long way.

Great Power – Great Responsibility –
Classic lines from the movie Spider Man.
You have the power to make a great difference. In fact you are the keepers of “balance of power” the state of equilibrium that nature loves. Maybe this is because some also become power brokers – the Radia tapes have the names of some very successful anchors featuring rather in a sorry state. Use the power constructively.

The expectations are high and it is very important for them to keep the promise and deliver, given the pivotal role that they have in the society. In its current state the media is looking titillate the “dumb” masses – that is a gross misjudgement and self destructive path.

Next week – the election season is fast approaching and we will be wooed with many promises, very few of which will be kept. I would try to create a “desirable” election manifesto in my next week’s blog which would be practical and high impact for the country. 

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