Ethical Journalism: What’s That?

A suspicious car driven all by itself without a driver & the news channels trying their best to uncover the mystery, a 6-year-old boy Prince is rescued from a 55-feet pit & the news channels rejoice as if India has won the world cup, explicit pictures of Mika & Rakhi Sawant smooching their way to publicity & the shutterbugs couldn’t take the lens off them.

From nobody to wonder boy, 6-year-old Prince was the most fortunate of the rest, hogging the limelight for a record three days. For the record these stories were aired on all news channels. But, how much news value did they actually have? For a story like this, a Journalism school would give a straight zero out of ten on ethical grounds. But the bottom line is, “who decides the difference between news & its easy alternate”? The above mentioned stories would get a wrath from any critical journalist, but the fact is that these same stories registered massive TRP’s & are the most popular among the public.

The debate has long been initiated, ‘Is it quality & ethics over TRPs, or the other way around? With 24*7 news channels mushrooming in the recent years, the supporters argue that in order to survive one need to broadcast stories that are commercially viable. While the critics believe that Journalism is a different profession altogether, its ethics cannot be compromised upon. The whole argument that one needs these stories just to fill in the time slot is not a clean truth. Because a lot of times one has noticed that news channels, especially those in Hindi have overlooked real news in favor of masala stories. For the record, George Bush’s visit to India in March 2006 had the news channels in a swing. Right from his security to pets to food to his stay at Maurya Sheraton was analyzed at great lengths while real news of five Dalits being killed at Bangalore didn’t have many takers. What does this really reflect? News channels are in no mood to do what they are really meant to do. Take any Hindi news channel & don’t be surprised if you see some “Bhoot Pret” stuff or some other supernatural drama being aired on it. And those who don’t give into the temptation have to continuously fight the TRP battle.

At the Ramnath Goenka “Excellence in Journalism” awards ceremony, when Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor-in-Chief of CNN-IBN was asked about his take on bhoot pret being aired on his Hindi news channel, his was an honest reply, “My channel does not work in a vacuum & needs viewers because it works in a business environment. My channel also breaks stories, my channel also does a few things we have questions over.” Getting a cue from this statement one very well understands the dilemma an editor himself has to go through before deciding about the fate of a story & that decision ultimately decides the ideology of a news channel. Currently, it’s just NDTV India that has steered away from bhoot pret in the Hindi channel category & it is continuously struggling with the TRP’s. That brings us to the ethical debate about whether to compromise on Journalism standards or in Rajdeep Sardesai’s words play the “sophisticated Doordarshan”.

Siddharth , Student, Ryan International school comments “I see no harm in News channels showing such stuff. After all that is what I desire to see. I find the hard news pretty boring. For me, Rakhi Sawant is news”.

But Kirti Bhushan pursuing pharmacy in Punjab begs to differ-A News channel is meant to provide news & it should do exactly that. If I want to watch entertainment channel, I have 50 other better options. Why shall news & entertainment be intermixed?

Megha Sharma Pursuing BBA from IIPM agrees “It’s strange how news is extinguishing from news channels. On days, I feel so irritated as what news channel to watch. They show everything apart from news.”

Himanshu Narwani howver takes a balanced view “These days some of the stories coming on news channels are so funny. It seems they can just put anything under news category. But I believe the public also likes it. It’s like Saas-Bahu serials; you hate it, but still want to watch it”.

The ethics debate cannot be resolved based on who is to be blamed for what is being shown and passed of as news but rather needs to address the bigger question of how to maintain a sense of balance between core news and commercial viability.