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TV Journalism in India: Money and Sensationalism dominates News, Ethics and Principles

"In spite of TV Channels and News Papers mushrooming in India, quality and credential of news are deteriorating in the country. News producers and broadcasters are more into making money than disseminating News. Industrialists and businessmen with little knowledge of Media Ethics are now venturing into media business and dictating the journalists to act on their command."

Basudev Mahapatra : March 20, 2008

Media reports regarding uproar in Orissa Assembly over Vedanta University project on March 20 revealed how journalism practiced in India is fast shifting itself from the principle and ethical roots.

Reports in different TV Channels and Newspapers were less informative than bias to influence the discussion scheduled for a date 4 days later. The statements of political leaders and Higher Education Minister were carried without any crosscheck of facts they said although we all know about the common proverb that ‘politicians promise a bridge when there is no river’ for a mere political benefit.

A television channel in Orissa owned by the family of a ruling party MP telecasted reports that seemed politically bias and clearly motivated to safeguard the interests of a corporate foundation whose credibility was questioned by the apex court of India. Even most of the newspapers claiming themselves to be highly circulated across the state had a similar line of reporting.

If one analyzes the report transmitted in the aforesaid local TV Channel, the ethical points of journalism seemed to have shifted their focus. In the report, the basic purpose of journalism was neglected by providing information to empower people but to satisfy the interests of some political parties and the Anil Agarwal Foundation that is into Vedanta University Project against people’s will and livelihood interests.

The facts were even transmitted without any crosschecking. On screen, Higher Education Minister of Orissa said, ‘fulfilling its role as the facilitator, government has already acquired 6252.90 acres of land in the project area in the name of Anil Agarwal foundation’. Did the Minister utter a true figure? As a watchdog, journalist must crosscheck it. But, ironically, no supporting byte of either a revenue department official or any revenue document was shown to confirm the accuracy of the figure.

The other statement Higher Education Minister gave was, ‘we have told Anil Agarwal Foundation to give priority to the students of Orissa for studying in the proposed world class Vedanta University’.

But as per clause 6, Para iv, the MOU signed with Vedanta Foundation – the former name of Anil Agarwal foundation, ‘In order to allow it (Vedanta University), to function as a world class University, GOO (Government of Orissa) shall ensure complete autonomy to Vedanta and the university authorities with regard to administration, admission, fee structure, curriculum and faculty selection. The objective is to attract best talents globally for students and faculty.’

Again, as a further clarification, the MOU mentions in Para X of the same clause that, ‘The university shall have the immunity from any reservation laws of the state government and a statement to this effect shall be incorporated in the legislation’.

The statement of the minister goes against the promises made by the government in the MOU. So, has the MOU been revised to incorporate what he said or it is just a verbal request he made to the Foundation? The TV News report maintained darkness about this serious confusion. This indicates a low level obligation of the journalist to the ‘truth’.

Again, using the animated visuals, perhaps produced and distributed by the foundation, the TV Channel reported how Vedanta University would be a truly world class University in Orissa without mentioning the source who claimed it. Meaning, it was the opinion of the channel that matched the foundation claims. Nowhere, the viewpoints of people opposing to the project were incorporated, at least, to maintain impartiality in reporting. By imposing this opinion in the name of News, the journalist and the channel violated three major points of Media Ethics – i. The journalist didn’t display its loyalty to the citizens who apprehend adverse impact of the project on their life and livelihood; ii. The journalist didn’t maintain independence while covering and producing the News; iii. The news imposed an opinion on its viewers than providing a forum for public appraisal and criticism.

Such kind of reporting not only gives Indian Journalism a bad name but also limits the scope of impact. The basic purpose gets diluted when the reporter or broadcaster hides or twists certain vital information to justify its own viewpoint in the news.

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This is not the only case that questions the Channels commitment to Media Ethics. On Mar 19, the same channel transmitted a fiction entitled 'Tamasoma Jyotirgamay' produced by Posco – the South Korean steel giant that is facing strong public resistance in the proposed project site near Paradeep. The film was made to create a mass opinion in support of the project. But certain dialogues in the film were derogatory to National Integration and the federal system and also promoting regional disparity. Using few artists the film tried to convince people through some dialogues like, ‘before the project was planned where were the outsider (other state) activists and leaders who encourage people in the project site to oppose the project?’ ‘Outsider activists and politicians are no way concerned with the problems of People but are envious of the development projects planned in the state of Orissa’. ‘Agitating against development projects has become a fashion these days’. However, the professionals involved in the film were only hired on payment to make these dialogues said in the film but were no way affected by the project directly.

The film was hardly analytical about the livelihood issues of people, possible scarcity of food materials once the project stands on the land that are used for agriculture now, and the possibility of transformation of the sustainable local market economy into one that would be controlled by outside businessmen. But instead, the film started blaming activists who are fighting for the basic livelihood rights of people in the country as envious outsiders. There would be no problem if the film were for internal purpose of the corporate house. But when it came for transmission, how the channel could approve such remarks for public broadcasting, as these were not presented as individual viewpoints but conclusive messages of the film?

The above examples are just tip of the iceberg. Satellite Television Channels focusing on Orissa have become PR windows more than infotainment channels for people. Corporate houses like TATA, NALCO are now into production of propagandist TV series to be aired on various TV Channels. And the stand of TV Channels are very simple – ‘we need revenue to survive’. It’s not only the case of private broadcasters but public broadcaster like Doordarshan is also in the fray for generating revenue through such PR campaigns. However, Doordarshan has a previewing body that censors the programme before telecast.

Because of such PR oriented news motivated by some vested interests of a journalist or the broadcaster, News is losing its importance among people of India. In spite of TV Channels and News Papers mushrooming in India, quality and credential of news are deteriorating in the country. News producers and broadcasters are more into making money than disseminating News. Industrialists and businessmen with little knowledge of Media Ethics are now venturing into media business and dictating the journalists to act on their command. But the Indian industry takes it as an advantage for growth through more investment.

Even journalists of high respect seem to have fallen into the trap of investors. I was shocked with certain statements made by Rajdeep Sardesai, who was once my role model, on some occasions. The first was in Ramnath Goenka Memorial discussion on responsible journalism where, on carrying sensational news stories, he said - ‘I have to carry such stories to make people see my channel and the show gets good TRP because I am running a channel (Meaning, doing business as a profitable proposition!). The second occasion was the last establishment day of Doordarshan when the channel organised a panel of veteran journalists facing questions from some other journalists in the gallery. Answering a question about the social watchdog responsibility of a journalist Rajdeep said, ‘we are journalists not activists’. What a demarcation! An activist may not be a journalist, but how a journalist cannot be an activist when journalist is the first man to collect information and make them go public to inform and aware people and all others who are working for the development of people? I still respect Rajdeep for his contribution to TV journalism in India. Such statements would have been the results of lots of business pressure on him.

Another incident of TV Journalism shook the nation was telecast of the sound byte of Kasmir Singh claiming himself as worked as a spy of India in Pakistan. What a low level commitment towards the nation displayed by a spy, if it is so, and a journalist who is supposed to be more responsible than anybody else? It’s not a mistake by chance but a deliberate attempt to stain the image of India in the international political arena and sour the Indo-Pak relationship. A deliberate attempt because the journalist who asked such a question shouldn’t have asked because any irresponsible answer would tarnish the image of the nation. And the telecast could have been stopped on any channel by a unanimous decision of the broadcasters. Like the UK editors decided not to carry any picture of Diana shot by the paparaji photographers when she died of an accident. Even the US media was pressured not to carry the photographs. This indicates the loyalty of Press to the Citizens, their emotion and the Nation at large.

Even in India, news catered by BBC is still considered authentic and news coming on BBC channel has the best impact world over because of the strictly ethical journalism practiced by its journalists. Most players of the UK Media do practices journalism on ethical lines.

But in India, the journalism practice is going tabloid way. The practitioners are more behind sensationalism and hype creating stuff than the news that would inform and empower people. As the trend of journalism practice goes in India, it’s high time that some kind of controlling system be set to ensure an ethical and responsible journalism in the country.


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