A voyeuristic media
After seeing The Hindu vs. Times of India (TOI) advertisement, the first thing came to my mind- this is a brand war between two ideologies and not necessarily between two newspapers. In South India, The Hindu is the No. 1 English language daily and Indian Readership Survey (IRS) data for the 4th quarter of 2011 reveals that Hindu’s average issue readership has grown by 2.7 per cent.
TOI had launched their Chennai edition back in 2008 and the recent advertisement is a definite strategy to penetrate The Hindu’s market. The tagline of the advertisement says “Are you stuck with news that puts you to sleep” and takes a dig at the Hindu. The Hindu hits back with some series of ads both in the print and visual form. One such ad says “Stay Ahead of The Times” and “Also Has Pages 1, 2, 4, 5,6,7 While “The Hindu” maintains highest standard in journalism, TOI mixes both “broadsheet” and “Tabloid” style in their news presentation and style. Since India, unlike Britain doesn’t have much tabloid newspapers, more and more newspapers are following this style.
Development or alternative journalism criticizes mainstream media for following this trend and accuses them of promoting sensationalism. They argue, this type of journalism focuses only a particular class of people, hence encourages elitism and suppress the voice of the “Have Not’s” You don’t have to travel far to find this trend. Switch on to couple of our Assamese news chan- nels and you will stop complaining about India TV or Aaz Tak. The prime time (Normally 7 to 8 o’clock) will inevitably focus on murder, sex or some spicy stories. Even if the murder or robbery had taken place in some other continent, our editors don’t have much of a problem. They would package it in such way that you would think the incident had taken place in Assam or One day would sure take place.
Our editors know it very well “sex and crime” sells so why bother about ethics or news quality.
A theory called “Magic Bullet” (also known as Hypodermic Needle Model) assumes that media are extremely powerful institution and the consumers are woefully naïve and malleable. So, if “sex” and “crime” is sold to the viewers, they will buy it without any complaint. Not sure whether our editors aware of this theory, but they are precisely doing the same thing by assuming that audience are passive. Needless to say with increasing adult content in our news items, our society is fast becoming a voyeuristic society. So what’s wrong with the electronic media? It is not that our print media is saint (Open any Assamese news daily and you will understand) but because visual images are more powerful than the printed ones, makes the case doubly difficult for electronic media. So is it a case that there is a dearth of “good news” is our society?
Probably not. What is dearth is the sense of news value in our media. Take for example, couple of days ago Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court has been recom- mended by the Collegium of Judges-headed by Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia- for elevation to the Supreme Court. Our media didn’t find it newsworthy. (Why should he be in the news, is he handling Kasab’s case?)
Five-time world champion Mary Kom recently won gold medal in the Asian women’s boxing championship at Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. At the age 29 and a mother of two children, her story never considered to be a prime time story. (Why should be, has she engaged in a sex scandal). Heard of Dr. J.N. Goswami? He was the Principal Scientist of India’s prestigious Chandrayaan I mission and also the Director of Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad. Frontline published his interview as cover story titled “A role model” (Frontline October 10-23, 2009) I am not sure if anyone from Assam has taken his interview.These are just some of the examples. All the above mentioned persons are from Northeast, yet their stories remain isolated from our own regional media and we keep on clamouring that mainstream media is ignoring us.
Journalism in Assam has a glorious past. Assamese magazines and newspapers have contributed a lot in enriching our culture. Having said this, the recent trend suggests that the distinction between enter- tainment and news are deliberatively being diluted in the name of competition. The causality is- quality journalism.
I like to end my article by quoting Mark Twain, who said- “Yours was not, in the beginning, a criminal nature, but circumstances changed it. At the age of nine, stole you sugar. you stole At the of fifteen, age money. At twenty, you stole horses. At twenty-five, you committed arson. At thirty, hardened in crime, you became an editor. Today, editorial wisdom faces serious questions in Assam.