Empowered, Misunderstood, Overrated

Much has been said about the power weilded by Indian media, which has apparently strengthened with  surge in TV news channels, daily newspapers and journals. However, despite being the country with the largest number of national news channels, India’s media continues to be obsolete. Obsolete to present the right information, obsolete to reach out to the people, obsolete to bring about a revolution.

Let’s start with the TV news channels. At one time, the only news channel was the NDTV-powered-Star News. The divorce of the two corporates produced not two but a number of new news channels – NDTV 24×7, NDTV India, CNN IBN, Star News, Zee News, Aaj Tak, Headlines Today, Sahara News, India TV, INX News,  and so on (there are so many others, that I can’t even remember!). But, the biggest problem seems to be the divide between the Hindi and English news channels. While the English channels have concentrated on delivering news, the Hindi channels have turned out to be nothing more than replicas of entertainment channels. So, since Star News believes Rakhi Sawant breaking up with her boyfriend, or Kareena-Saif holding hands is news of national importance, they must drive their point home, with a Bollywood-inspired background score, and Balaji Telefilms-inspired Special Effects!

In terms of the print media, a large number of newspapers are making inroads. So, while, HT and TOI battle it out for readership, there is a parallel competition between Mail Today and Metro Now. Since newspapers don’t have the means to add background music or special effects, the readers can remain mentally sound. These newspapers are doing quite a good job, as most of them have something new to offer. Mail Today offers the very serious news, with analytical articles that may get a bit too much for the average reader, whereas Metro Now provides a good mix of info and entertainment, and some very good columns. Mail Today however suffers from its tabloid-format, which would not really be appreciated by the readers of serious news – who may as well stick to their Hindus, Asian Ages and Indian Expresses. But then, who knows – serious news packaged in the format of a tabloid might just be the next big innovation.

Despite its growth, the power of the Indian media still remains limited in terms of its scope and purview. Our film industry (we keep forgetting it is a part of the media) continues to be a source of mere escapism for viewers, which explains the lack of socially relevant movies, which are required in addition to the regular masala-flicks. Bollywood actor and entrepreneur Preity Zinta commented, “the Indian audience doesn’t need a Taare Zameen Par – they don’t want to know how to educate children. They want to know how to feed them.” The statement, in the light of India’s many social,  economic and religious problems, makes immense sense, and the media needs to awaken to this.

A very important role of the media, apart from giving out news, is to mobilize public opinion, and in a way also influence it. The only news channel that has taken measures in this direction is NDTV – whether it was its ‘Justice to Jessica Lal’ SMS campaign, or the ongoing ‘Save the Tigers’ campaign. The Viewspaper began a section of interviews with some underprivileged children; a reader commented that the stories would be futile unless the team did something to help these kids. That is where we sometimes misunderstand the job of the media. It is not its job to transform society, but to bring about a transformation. To do so it needs to sensitize the public to the right news, and in the right way.

There are a number of ways in which the Indian media differs from that in the west. For instance, how many of us know about the scandals our politicians are involved in? In the west, a Carla Bruni or a Monica Lewinsky can rock the President’s office, but in India, such matters are still kept under wraps. Do we know that a certain bachelor has an ‘adopted’ love-child? Or that a particular (married) Finance Minister is having an affair with a colleague in the same party? Or that a politician, who speaks immensely about ethos, morals, values, culture, is supposedly having an affair with his daughter-in-law?
But this is more of the ‘peeping eyes, prying toms’ variety of news; so maybe we are fortunate to be spared from it.

Another difference would probably be the political stand adopted by the media. In the west, newspapers make no bones about declaring which political party they support, while in India this is still done (not so) discreetly. For example, an India Today clearly supports the Rightists, but doesn’t claim so. I have also often found HT to be pro-Congress, but again, they remain discreet about it.

India, being the world’s largest democracy, rests on the media. Keeping this in mind, it becomes important for the media to realize its all-important role and work towards its correct utilization. Mahatma Gandhi vested immense power in the media, and used it as a platform to unite the people of the country towards the common cause of freedom. That was more than sixty years ago. Later, Indira Gandhi crippled the power of the media when she declared a state of Emergency. Today, our media has arisen from those shackles. But in terms of its role, it still needs to accomplish its rightful position. We do not have a cause as common and binding as Independence, but we don’t suffer from a dearth of causes either.

The causes are endless, and as a fact so are the opportunities; it is just a matter of  these opportunities for the right cause.

Rohan Sandhu

[Image Source : http://www.flickr.com/photos/barton/2481673/]