Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Policing The Media; Is Regulation Required Or Is It Another Retrograde Attempt To Muzzle The Freedom Of The Press?

At a time when the India Media is racing ahead and projected to growing faster than the Indian GDP, as much as twice in some recent reports, our world suddenly seems on fire with the news that Indian media stings may soon require oversight to determine if such a sting is indeed in public interest as well as being able to stand true on the test of entrapment.

The venerable Delhi High Court was rancid when it asked whether the media was carrying out sting operations or ‘stinking operations’.

The state of affairs has come to such a pass that in disposing off a petition on the now infamous sting telecast by private TV news channel in August, the court suggested that the information and broadcasting ministry constitute a three-member committee and all TV channels should seek permission from it before airing any sting operation. The suggested panel is proposed to have a retired high court judge and two officials with the ranks of additional secretary and additional commissioner of police. The dubious sting purportedly showing a New Delhi schoolteacher, Uma Khurana forcing a girl student into prostitution. Police investigations subsequently found that the footage was doctored and the teacher was innocent. The bench further gave its nod to Khurana to take action against the channel or claim compensation.

The Broadcasting Bill has been hanging fire for the longest time due to a lack of consensus between the position of the government and media houses. The Information and Broadcasting Minister has now set 2008 as the year for the finalisation of the Bill but not before taking a dig at the Media Industry at large for the state of affairs. "We have delayed the process of introducing the Bill as big corporate houses are opposing it. They (corporate houses) like to have court directives rather than listening to the government," the Minister said recently on the sidelines of an Assocham event. The truth is a grey line somewhere between large corporate media house interests and draconian socialism era censorship!

The accusations of polarised coverage across Tehelka, Nandigram, Gujarat and Modi, fly thick and fast day-in, day-out. Defense scams, Bofors, Quattrochi, the list goes on and on. The usual suspects who orchestrate this anarchy include favorites like political parties as seen in Nandigram, West Bengal, Gujarat Elections. Another large arena for inflicting this perfidy on the media is reserved for large business houses using the media in a no-holds barred skirmishing that goes on against business competition. The spectrum war in the Indian telecom industry and the reams of newsprint in its wake, the footage it has consumed on television, and cyberspace it has consumed online is mammoth by any standards.

With some perversity, I am sure that these translate to trophies that take the place of pride in many a spin doctors' hall-of-fame. It would be a coup some will gloat on if they could pull off such an act of effective spin and propaganda. Maybe I live in a world of conspiracies and I see too many films and interest groups that go by such affable terms such as a corporate affairs, advocacy, PR Firms are all benign upstanding citizens. While we can blame the corporates and politicians, where does the Media stand in all this blame game?

While there will always be competing interests who will try their luck and they should, the questions that sits uneasy in my head is where is the sense of editorial balance? Who decides what story can run and what value system underlies this often intangible and grey art of practicing editorial discretion?

How many times have we all witnessed the blatant lies and falsehoods, how many times have we seen one-minute 'microwave judgments' by anchors and reporters of questionable or no intellect and cringed in despair at issues slammed without hope of recourse or apology. The broadcast media has seen such cut throat competition that all but a few firmly grounded channels have turned to sensationalism and made a mockery of the news domain, similar trends have been seen in mainline publications and the online world too.

This is our world; a world made of many conflicting microcosms and yet the show must go and we must find a way, not the Putin way or the Western way, and certainly not the Pakistani way but an Indian way forward for the show must go on without aberrations where the media retains its place as a guardian of our democracy and a conscience in times of weakness and chaos.

What can you and I do in our own small way to aware and then maybe spread an awareness of the issue at hand so we as communicator and marketeers help support and build a better Media; a tomorrow built on a foundation of balance, integrity, justice and merit. Brick bats and accolades bring them on, all welcome!

No comments:

The Anatomy of Stillborn Congress Communist CAA NRC Campaign

The anatomy of a Protest in a democracy has a short half-life. The appetite for idealism fades very quickly as things start to catch f...