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Go Home Indian Media – How we fail people in our never ending quest for TRPs

Powerful earthquake hits Nepal

By Harshmeet Singh

All across the world May 3 is celebrated as the ‘World Press Freedom Day.’ On this day, people pay tribute to the journalists for their courage and commitment towards freedom of speech. But on Sunday, Nepal wasn’t a part of these celebrations. Instead, #GoHomeIndianMedia was the trending hashtag in the country with over 60,000 tweets.

Widely regarded as the ‘fourth pillar’ of the Indian democracy, the Indian media has been slammed for multiple reasons of late. And on all such occasions, Twitterati have been quick to jump on to the media and make their voices heard. Right from the media’s insensitive and sensational coverage of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and Times Now’s #ShamedinSydney campaign aimed at bashing the Indian cricket team to covering the Nepal tragedy as a ‘public relations exercise’ for the Indian Government, the Indian media has done little to enhance its reputation in the past few years.

Nepal has taken to the social media to bash the Indian media for their ‘insensitive and ‘dramatic’ coverage of the natural calamity, which has left over 7,000 dead in the Himalayan nation. Most notable of the criticisms came from one Sunita Shakya, a Nepali origin girl. She published a blog on CNN saying, “Your media and media personnel are acting like they are shooting some kind of family serials.”

Her observation further added, “Thanks to tons of reporters who came to Nepal from those rescue planes of India, you took a seat where a victim could be transported to hospitals/ health camps. Thanks to you all reporters, you took a seat where a bag of food and supplies could be placed to send to those hardly hit places.”

But this was perhaps not the first time that the Indian media has preferred to ask ‘How are you feeling?’ instead of helping a person in need. Questions such as ‘How many people of your family have died in the earthquake?’ were heard by the locals more than once. Some people in Nepal also accused the media of spreading lies and presenting a false picture in front of the world. The locals have accused the Indian media of being excessively self praiseworthy when others were doing just as much to help the needy.

Anything for the TRPs

Corporate takeover of the media has long been happening in India. News which ‘hooks’ the people to their TV screens, irrespective of its authenticity, dominates our news channels. Media’s obsession with presenting the ‘breaking news’ has often forced channels to cross the threshold of fundamentals of journalism.

Last year’s devastating floods in Kashmir saw thousands of people stranded at the rooftops and far off places where no help was available. Instead of carrying the essentials with them or helping the stranded people to reach safe corners, the media preferred pointing their cameras at them and asking them if they think the Government has done enough for them!

The concept of ‘investigative journalism’ has been brutally abused in India. Critical facts have been botched up and presented by the media in a number of high profile cases such as the Arushi Case and the Sunanda Pushkar case. Half-baked and Half-true facts have been put forward by the media in many cases, terming them as ‘Breaking news.’ Even before these matters reached the courts, a number of news channels were running stories such as ‘Why would Shashi Tharoor kill his wife,’ and ‘A dark truth regarding the past of Arushi’s parents.’ Such ‘prime time’ shows were aimed at gaining audience in big number and selling advertisements at a premium price. While the media may argue that they are only presenting an opinion, the fact that such opinions create a certain mood among the public can’t be ignored.

Over the past few years, the Indian media has been increasingly poaching into the turf of judiciary and investigating agencies. An endless search for breaking news has diluted the standards of the Indian media to a great deal and has given rise to multiple errors. In December 2011, Times Now was slapped a 100 crore fine after it had mistakenly shown the photograph of Justice P B Sawant, a former SC judge, in place of an accused in a multi crore Provident Fund case. Such goof-ups are now becoming increasingly common as the media crosses its limits in search of breaking news. In May this year, on the day of the counting of votes of the Lok Sabha elections, many news channels started showing poll results much before the official count even began, just to get the viewers attracted to them and not others!

Not all is lost  

To say that the Indian media is doomed would be going a bit too far. There have been multiple instances in the past when the media has mobilized the public on social issues. The public reactions to the Nirbhaya rape case and Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal agitation were extensively covered by the Indian media, thus shaking the dormant public and pushing them to ask for their rights. Many other such examples can be put forward. But somewhere down the line, the media has tilted the balance towards TRPs and ignored their basic duty of reporting what they see – without any extra added flavors.

In most arguments, the one with the last word has an upper hand. For years, the media sat in a unique position where no one could have argued with its reporting simply because you can’t speak back to the television or the newspaper! But with the advent of social media, the media channels have started to come under fire. They are now being held accountable for their actions. There is now a way to speak back to the television. The Indian media must realize this and mend its ways before people become oblivious to its presence.

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