NewsAny kind of interaction or communication between few informed persons and the masses through print or electronic media, can be termed as journalism. And this definition has withstood the test of time.

However, the definition of effective journalism has somehow undergone many distortions and corruptions.

In India, the need for newspapers was felt during the freedom struggle for few visionaries saw it as an effective instrument for invoking nationalism and an awakening among the masses. Thus, the very rationale behind journalism, believe it or not, was educating us on the policies and programs of the government and their consequences.

The articles then embodied the thoughts and opinions of highly educated, conscious and revered men of society, free from all external influences. These commentaries were also aimed at creating a strong opinion among the public. Hence, the editorial gave points and counterpoints on every issue and it was up to the reader to decide his own point of view. Therefore, the media played a dual role, of an informer and of a creator of sound public opinion.

This was then.

Today, the meaning of journalism has got lost and its role is ambiguous. The core element in this entire cycle have been cheated and let down.

Currently, the print media is thriving on advertisements and sponsorships. For instance, Times of India, the highest circulated news daily consists of 32 pages out of which 27% are covered with advertisements, besides having a separate supplement for commercials. As a consequence, news is compromised on due to lack of printing space.

The problem is not only the quantity but also the quality of news that is printed. Does knowing the length of some girl’s skirt, or the name of some celeb’s dog, makes me any wiser? That’s the question that every writer, editor and reporter must ask himself, ‘what am I offering to the reader?’ The answer will help him decide whether what he writes is synonymous with the true sprit of journalism or not.

A compromise on content gives the reader half-baked and incomplete information. Many a times, stories of consequence are conveniently forgotten. They are either not mentioned or by some great miracle they are squeezed into one corner, which you and I occasionally notice.

A perfect example of this would be the Jessica Lall case. Was there even a mention of her between 1999 and 2004? I don’t think a child born in the year 2000 would have even heard of this case till now! Yes, now. The effective action being taken now is a faultless paradigm of the power of the media in social awakening. How many more Jessica’s would get justice, if only the press would report news that matters with regular follow ups that would help maintain a steady pressure on the state machinery.

An ideal journalist reports facts as they are, or his own opinions backed by supportive arguments. Ideally Newspapers too, must report events in an unbiased manner, without tampering with information, letting the reader make his own, informed decision. But this concept is far removed from reality today. News can be easily influenced. It is used for money making, cheap publicity or popularity. The elements of accuracy and objectivity have been lost.

The Electronic media has brought along with it a plethora of tribulations, making sensationalism the order of the day. The perfect example would be that of ‘sting operations’ which use invasion of privacy as a means of entertainment. Reporters have even started blackmailing media magnets starring in sting operations, giving an impetus to a new kind of evil.

Why can’t the media shift its attention to where it is required? Like Narmada Bachao Andolan or a small village somewhere in Orissa, where voices rise in protest but are forced to die down due to lack of exposure. Will these people ever be noticed without a star coming to their aid?

Some newspapers and channels still give us hope. A Hindi newspaper from Jharkhand, Prabhat Khabar, is an exception to the present day rags that feed on celebrities. Dailies like, Indian Express, Hindu and Asian Age still maintain there high standards, but still a lot needs to be done.

The time has come for journalism to redeem itself. Before covering a story, a journalist must ask himself the very purpose of his profession. If it is aimed at educating the readers, if it is an endeavor to create a better tomorrow for the people and the country, only then is the story worth reporting.

Natasha Puri