By Shivani Baghel
Edited by Madhavi Roy
Journalism, once upon a time, was considered one of the most prestigious professions to be in. Journalists were intellectuals and masters of the orientation of society’s beliefs and opinions. The contribution of the press in the history of India’s freedom struggle, as for other nations like France, is unforgettable. “The pen is mightier than the sword” was often said in the context of revolutionary cataclysm in India. The revolutionary movement did not start with ‘guns-n-bombs’, but with the publication of various newspapers, where India’s freedom fetched its voice. ‘Yugaantar’ can be termed as the first publication in this context, followed by ‘Ghadar’, which incited the fire of freedom. ‘Tilak Kesri’ propagated the independence movement, making Bengal’s anti-partition drive a national struggle. In fact, the first ever congress meeting had editors and journalists voicing their stance and suggesting resolutions for India’s political upheaval.
Then what changed the face of journalism in India?
How did the burning desire of writing the truth get trans-phased into crunching advertising revenues and combative TRP’s? The crusades got converted into commercial ventures. The media industry is a serious business money churning industry today. But it is still appalling whenever you see sleazy news pieces (Read- “How the tiger fell in love!”. “Are aliens drinking milk?” “OMG! Deepika shows cleavage!). Is this the kind of news that we, the young Indians, would want to be associated with? No wonder then, that the journalism of India is losing its sheen and is often stereotyped as a profession with no future. The awe and respect which it had at once is vanishing.
In contrast, unlike anywhere else (even Europe or America, as a matter-of-fact), India is witnessing an increasing readership. India, with it’s over a billion population, supports nearly 70,000 registered newspapers along with more than 450 Television channels and can be easily credited as one of the strongest in terms of circulation figures and market revenues. Being an influential opposition in the Parliament, journalists have been regarded as an esteemed, accepted moral guide in the society. For a democratic India, the media is acclaimed as the fourth important pillar after the judiciary, the parliament and the bureaucratic set-up.
With all its honored accreditations, what is sinking journalism so low? What is motivating the bureaucracy of media to divulge into sensationalism and tabloidization of news?
Advertising revenue is one of the prime sources of motivation, which can be easily understood when one sees the rock bottom cover prices of newspapers in most of the regions. This was apparent when Vineet Jain, CEO of TOI, unabashedly proclaimed in an interview, “We are not in the newspaper business, we are in the advertising business” further adding that ”If 90 percent of your revenue comes from advertising, you are in the advertising business.” It’s not surprising to see his broadsheet dailies filled with hordes of advertisement. Further, more pages are devoted to lifestyle and entertainment content to titillate the advertisers and readers. This is directly responsible for degrading the standards of serious content of democratic deliberation on policies and livelihood issues. Fueling the fire, Vineet astonished the media by saying that “If you are editorially minded, you will make all the wrong decisions.” Well, the parodies and memes all across mainstream internet are a clear shout-out to all the wrong decision-makers!
Now, as mentioned before, the media industry is a thriving money churning institution with huge stakes. Gratifying the stakeholders is, henceforth, another important job. So is cheque book journalism whereby the investigative journos/reporters pay sources to divulge news. And freebies and gifts are an added bonus! Consider the case of Girilal Jain, an ex-editor of an English daily who received a large amount of free shares from Reliance for publishing an AGM picture. Paid news, or the sale of news space, is the primary road towards degradation. This trend came into the limelight during the election period in India. Identical reports in praise of a particular candidate were published in different dailies all across the country. The PCI revealed that the space was sold out to the political parties, but was not published as an advertisement, but as “News”. Newspapers had in fact created rate cards for candidates with allocated rates for news coverage, editorials, as well as that of publishing malicious reports against the opponents. The entire front page of the paper can be sold as an ad for ₹2, 35, 00,000. Amazing, Long live the journo ethics!
There is clearly a conflict of interest. You choose either revenue or professionalism. Juxtapose the above ideas with a newbie journalist’s glorifying dogma and it’s evident that sticking to one causes him to lose out on another. Priorities win, and in most cases, the bread butter (and extra cheese) always wins.
I am sure George Orwell, who once said “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations”, would have a pretty interesting take on Indian journalism in the 21st century. After all, Indian journalism today has mostly reduced to public relations.
Today’s India is moving towards an educated society (a literate one, for that matter) and is displaying an immense zeal of enthusiasm and dynamism. Thanks to the new media, the readers are genuinely interested in stimulating stories and look for news coverage to serve their hunger well. There is a thrust for knowledge. People want to get inspired and learn. And that is why newspapers filled with dispassionate cold stories are not appealing anymore. Even the once savored Editorial page has turned bland. Magazines, by and large, have been instrumental in reinvigorating the face of journalism, but are unfortunately dying a slow death. True, the Internet has conquered it all. But that is because the traditional media has given it the space it requires. Would it be too much to ask to fill that space? Would it be too much to ask for real time stories than sensationalizing news and rely on TRP fetching drama? Come on, Ekta Kapoor is serving us well in that regard. Can’t we revitalize the face of journalism yet again? Can’t we honor its way yet again? The media needs to be aware, conscious and responsible. It needs to wake up now.
Shivani Baghel is a true Piscean at heart and likes calling herself a Dreamer! Although an introvert, she is an absolute fun loving girl once you get to know her. She loves being an Agony Aunt as she says, “nothing gives me more happiness than helping others”. Her loved ones describe her as trustworthy and honest. She prefers spending her weekends lazing around in a corner, hooked up to a novel, sipping some green tea besides her window. A foodie that she is, exploring and discovering new places around her world fascinates her. She dreams of travelling the world around and writing something unique of each place. She loves doodling random thoughts at random places. Although she calls herself a big procrastinator, she knows for a fact, that no one can nail it the way she does at the last moment. Shivani firmly believes that wearing rose colored glasses can bring you happiness for today and aspirations for tomorrow, and hence doesn’t care a bit when people ask her to get a reality check! After all, only those who have the courage to dream it can achieve it.