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Plummeting Media Credibility

Rupak Kumar Mahanta:

Barring a few notable exceptions, media reporting has been reduced to the art of “separating news from the truth”. The phrase is borrowed from an advertisement issued by the Mumbai Press Club inviting entries for Red Ink Awards 2019 for Excellence in Journalism. This award was instituted in 2013 “to promote best practices among journalists and encourage good quality writing, fair play and high ethical standards”. Now it has been felt the intent is too generic, and needs to be specified. So, the advertisement this time, may not be in so many words, but says all the same that those who report “Facts not Frenzy/Facts not Favor/Facts not Forwards/Facts not Fervor/Facts not Fake” may qualify for the awards. Does it not indicate the negative height that the media has plunged into and sum up the character and the role of the media today? Among all these attributes (?), I find “Facts not Favor” a bit revealing. Most of the media house owners have diversified interests, which are better served by covertly maintaining a cosy relationship and overtly fighting with the powers that be, on issues of public interest, but with kid gloves. Those, who drafted the Congress Manifesto, 2019, had probably this in the back of their minds, when they promised to pass law to curb “control of the media by other business organization”, among other things. Measures to deal with the fake news and paid news also have been spelt out in the manifesto. As if, to atone for the past mistakes committed in 1975, the manifesto also promises to amend the PCI Act, 1978 to the extent to protect the freedom of journalism, uphold editorial independence and guard against government interference, among other things.

Politicians or people close to politicians running media business is no news; it is accepted. (The NaMo TV, first described as a Hindi news service to provide “the latest breaking news on national politics” and later as a “special service provider” with its content coming from BJP that has been put on hold due to EC’s intervention, is the latest example.) It irks only when such media houses indulge in excessive propaganda by exceeding all decency limits. Many people are sick of a TV News Channel owned by a powerful minister in Assam for its unashamed partisan propaganda. When the rot sets in an organization from within, the immune system gets destroyed like in a living body and become vulnerable to outside influences. L K Advani’s famous quote, “when asked to bend, the media crawled” is an indictment of the strength of character, or lack of it, of the national media during the Congress regime under the stewardship of Indira Gandhi. But it was still much better then necessitating imposition of Emergency to reign in on the media. But the irony is that the party in power that was once headed by Mr Advani has resorted to such clever intimidation today, that most of the media houses either, have fallen in line or, have been working under constant fear, as the spectre of Sec. 121 or 121A of the IPC relating to waging or conspiring to wage war against the State or, Sec. 124A relating to sedition, NSA and OSA loom large. The release of Kishorechandra Wangkhem, a TV anchor, after serving four months in prison for calling the CM of Manipur a “puppet” of PM Narendra Modi, under the order of the high court is the latest of such examples.

A few valiant people cannot stop the erosion of media credibility. All cannot be expected to have the honesty, integrity and the courage of conviction of the media stalwarts like N Ram of The Hindu, Shekhar Gupta of The Indian Express and Prannoy Roy of NDTV, to name a few. Legislation to protect the honest journalists against the State’s abuse of power is the need of the hour.

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