Is the media objective and restrained today?
In today’s world it is difficult to escape the media hype about certain topics. From the most serious to most mundane, in this era of 24x7 news channels and news reporting everything is flash news. But are the news reports fair and objective?
If you take a look at the international media over the last couple of years, it has acted more as a mouthpiece of the government than as a watchdog, which is the primary function of the fourth estate. The US media, especially Fox TV channel, in particular took an overtly partial and an unquestioningly patriotic stance while reporting the Iraq war.
There are reports circulating all over the world that the toppling of Saddam’s statue was a staged event for the benefit of the international media in Iraq. Even the reporting of this event was over hyped by some reporters who suggested that hundreds of local Iraqi people got involved in its destruction as part of a spontaneous celebration. When in reality, as reported by the BBC, there were only a few dozens of local Iraqi’s involved in the act in the presence of at most 200 people, most of them journalists and US troops. So much for the symbol of liberation of Iraq and so much for honest reporting of events!!!
How many of us are aware that the stories from the embedded journalists (those journalists accompanying the military troops) were needed to be checked by the military’s media liaison officer who sometimes even sent it to the Brigade headquarters for approval. Each of those embedded journalists, whose stories were described by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as ‘breathtaking’ and ‘accurate’ reporting, had signed a prior agreement stating what they can and what they cannot report. In the process the notions of accuracy, impartiality and objectivity in journalism were butchered.
Even more recently scientists brought out a report on the high level of impact humans have on global warming. However this was not reported as much as Anna Nicole Smith’s death or Britney Spear’s head shaving incident. Did the media believe that Britney Spear’s hair would have more impact on our lives than pertinent environmental issues?
Closer to home, the Indian media have been found to be indulging in an unabashed scramble for any morsel of news that comes their way. There have been instances very recently when they have reported news even before it has been verified or a formal announcement on the same been made by concerned authorities. In an effort to be the first to report a story its credibility was being sacrificed.
Sting operations are the latest trend to have been taken up by the Indian media. In these covert operations the reporter tricks a person and tries to catch him in the act of committing an illegal activity on a hidden camera. While in the initial days when it was introduced it did help bring to light many corruptions and malpractices in the society, it has now degenerated into the realms of scandalous reality television. The over use of this technique has led to its misuse as was illustrated in the Shakti Kapoor scandal. At best all that they proved was that he was immoral when he succumbed to the advances of an undercover journalist. At worse it was a cheap test of the man’s character in a situation similar to the devil tempting Eve. But pray tell me where the news content in all this is, other than those worthy only of cheap tabloids?
In a bid to keep the flow of news coming, the media has started creating its own news. Take for instance the rescue operation of a kid called Prince in central India. Agreed the plight of the kid, stuck in a bore well, was heart breaking and the immediate rescue operation undertaken by all involved was indeed credit worthy. However the media whipped it up to such frenzy and beamed it all over the country in such a way that you would be forgiven to think that this was the only child in any kind of distress in our country at that moment. In a country where child rights abuse is a common occurrence one was left wondering if it wouldn’t have been better if as much news time was spend on bringing to light the more distressing stories of children whose even basic rights are violated everyday. But hey, where is the novelty in that right? Everybody knows that it happens so why bother.
A prime example of how superfluous and obsessive our media can be was the recent media obsession with the Abhishek Bachan – Aishwarya Rai affair and their subsequent engagement. The media went so crazy over this that one wondered if this was the most important event in an Indian’s life since independence. There were even news channels that ran nothing but this story for a whole day. By the end of it all almost everyone was sick and tired of hearing their love story for the umpteenth time. Surely there were other things happening in the country that was more news worthy than the engagement of two super rich and privileged people. The media should realize that the more time they spend on such trivialities the lesser time they have to put forth meaningful and more important news.
The media needs to realize the impact they have on people’s psyche and should strive to be as neutral as possible. There is no doubt in my mind that the recent verdicts in the Priyadarshini Mattoo and Jessica Lal cases were as much influenced by the media as anything else. The media had already crucified the accused even before the actual verdict. While it is commendable that media fought for justice in these cases involving highly influential accused, care should be taken that they do not cross the line of impartiality and objectivity.
The media should realize its own power in forming people’s opinion and should rise above mere profit making. It needs to serve the society with the most noble of statuses befitting the fourth estate – that of being the society’s watchdog.
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