Dialogue  July-September,  2010, Volume 12 No.1

The Downfall of Media

Dina Nath Mishra

If an incident takes place about which the public may like to know, then publishing such an incident comes in the category of news. Suppose there occurs a truck accident at some place, usually it becomes a news within a radius of 80 kilometers. A news carries with it its own gravity, speed and significance. The day I was in Shimla, it must have been the time some eight thirty while I was having my shoes polished, when Sanjay Gandhi met the airplane accident. He had died just a couple of minutes before. The shoemaker had come to know about that accident within five minutes. In this you can see the speed, the gravity, and the significance of a news. Similarly when two planes crashed into the twin towers of World Trade Centre in Newyork, the live telecast of the incident, immediately after the second crash reached every corner of the world. Millions of people watched the collapsing towers live. Here also you could see the speed, the gravity, and the significance of a news. 
    A newsman has to answer so many questions like when, what, where, why and how, to render it as complete a news. You must have seen newspaper offices where hundreds of news items, received from dozens of agencies and correspondents lie piled up. The chief sub-editor keeps on sorting the news useful for his newspaper and discarding the rest. You can see him in his double roles of a newsmaker or a news-shredder. The editing process goes on continuously. The pages, acquiring shape haunted by the ghost of deadline. Deciding the time of page making and completing all pages within the deadline exacts a lot of mental energy. The pages with the help of the latest print technology are churned out as complete newspapers at a speed of 40-50 thousand papers per hour. Simultaneously they are bundled and stuffed in their respective vehicles to move to their distribution centers where the hawker, also under pressure for time, picks up the bundles and hurries across streets throwing the papers in houses. Every stage has its deadline. All this is done so hurriedly that on many occasions errors occur. 
    I would relate an incident in this regard. It concerns about 20-25 year old technology . It was the time of emergency. In small towns there are both Tehsildars and Tehbildars. The sub editor of the concerned newspaper was not familiar with the term Tehbildar, so he replaced Tehbildar with Tehsildar. In its final form the news was an obituary condoling the death of someone in Tehsildar’s family. But, the death had occurred in Tehbildar’s family. And people started gathering at the Tehsildar’s home. He complained to the newspaper owner. The owner assured him of a corrigendum next day. It was corrected. The second day chief correspondent saw it. “What is this Tehbildar?” He recorrected it and let the Tehbildar be Tehsildar. The owner was petrified. The Tehsildar requested him for not obliging him with any more corrigenda. But the owner and the editor were sincere to their words. It was ordered in front of all to rectify the blunder. The order was complied with. Now it was ready at the printer for the final go. The foreman saw it. He said, “Such a blunder is going unnoticed. What is this Tehbildar?” The foreman, the supreme authority of different phases of printing as he is, corrected it with his own hands. After this he told everyone with a winner’s pride how he had detected an error that day. When the error was repeated for the third consecutive day the Tehsildar was really furious. Those were times of emergency. Officers enjoyed loads of power then. The editor was not even in a position to seek apology.  I mean to say that no one can afford an error while working in a newspaper office. Still errors creep in. They say that only Encyclopedias, etc. guarantee a zero error printing. But, even in a reputed encyclopedia once, 148 errors of spelling were discovered.                                                                
    Once a famous man died. Coincidentally, the manager’s nephew also died before the news could be published. Now the question was as to which news should get priority. All devoted workers were in favour of the news of the manager’s nephew. The great personality who had passed away was found missing from the news and the news of death of the manager’s nephew was published zealously. There is a saying in Hindi – “ Dulhan vahi jo piya man bhaye”. (The lucky bride is one who is liked by her husband). In media we can say – “khabar vahi jo sampadak man bhaye”. (only that is news which is liked or approved by the editor)
    In the world of newspapers, these days the “brides” have become considerably rich. And if the “bride” is an election candidate, and everyone is given his due, or the correspondent or the editor gets his due, then the news of the “bride” is sure to be there. Significance of the news has no consideration. The ‘bride’ which will pay will be in the news. If the ‘bride’ is in the form of an entrepreneur, the news will be there.  Monetary inducements make news, really newsworthy.                  
    Media is the fourth pillar of democracy. Lets check the strength of three other pillars of democracy. Very recently there was the news of misappropriation of some four thousand crores by a former chief minister of Jharkhand. This is the state of affairs of the Executive. The state of affairs of the Legislature was succulently published in different newspapers, when the Legislators were caught by hidden cameras in a sting operation taking Rs. ten thousand for asking questions. And lastly, we have the Judiciary. In lower courts there is open corruption. It goes on even at the level of High Courts Even the Supreme Court is now not beyond doubt. The only pillar that is left is journalism. Is the pillar of journalism immune from this malaise?                                                                   
    Some time back, the chief minister of Punjab Prakash Singh Badal was addressing a conference on journalism. Badal said that newspapers are powerful. They may turn a horse into a donkey. And people will believe it to be a donkey. In fact Badal Sahab was angry. He worked very hard to organize a mammoth rally. But the then chief-minister Amrinder Singh had purchased one page of a newspaper. In the purchased page he could get written whatever he liked. Thus rally of Badal Sahab was described as a flop. And miraculously, Badal Sahab had also bought another page of the same newspaper. According to the same newspaper of the day, the page bought by Badal Sahab described the rally as unprecedented success. The newspaper of that day is worth keeping in a museum. In two different pages of one newspaper, one will hardly get to see such diametrically opposed reporting of the same event.                                                                                                                                    
    In first half of the 20
th century, journalism was a mission, or in other words, people passionate about public awakening would publish newspapers. They included big names of society and also those fighting for Independence. They were equally competent with the pen. Journalism today is not a mission from any viewpoint. It is now a promising business. Those who are in this big business are accordingly corrupt in big proportion, whereas those assisting them have subsidiary shares of corruption. Even in this pessimistic scenario, there are some 15-20 percent journalists who still abide by the ethics of journalism. A renowned journalist P. Sainath wrote three serialized articles in ‘Hindu’ about the corruption prevalent in the print media. He has given details of corruption of crores by the Chief Ministers, ministers during the last (2009) Lok Sabha elections, besides how many newspapers they purchased and cooked up statistics were purveyed by them to influence the elections. Similarly a friend of mine who hails from Madhya Pradesh confided in me that now the districts are being auctioned as journalistic territories. Journalists buy these districts. They publish news of their choice from the district, maintaining little discrimination between truth and falsehood. There are some newspapers that do not give any salary to their correspondents and stringers. They do give them identity cards with photographs. Now it is upto the correspondent or the stringer to make as much money as they want by using the card.                                            
    A few days back, the newspaper Business Standard exposed a facet of the corruption of The Times of India. To go by the news of this paper, The Times of India has devised a new method of corruption. It setup a website named Media Net. In order to comprehend this corruption, it is necessary for us to understand that the ratio of credibility between a published news and a published advertisement of the same size is
1:11. That is to say that a published news is 11 times more credible than a published advertisement. The advertisement by its very appearance looks like an advertisement, people tend to disbelieve it. Thus any one can upload a news in order to be published on the website of the The Times of India. This news in fact is not a news but advertisement. So whosoever wants to publish his advertisement as a news item, he/she can upload the news of his choice after paying at the rate of an advertisement. Journalists have the permission to take material from Media Net and publish it as news. We all know that there are two types of spaces in media, one for news and the other for advertisement. There is recorded huge growth in revenues generated by advertisements when advertisements are published as news after getting the price of advertisements. It has already been said that there is something sacrosanct about a news. It claims more credibility. If something is published directly as advertisement, it carries little conviction. After the revelation of Business Standard, The Times of India, in its defense, said that this method was adopted to stop corruption among journalists. This may be true to some extent. But at the same time it surely underlines the fact that corruption is thriving in the field of journalism.                            
    Here, I am temptated to describe an incident in this connection. I was the resident editor of the Patna edition of Navabharat Times then. One day I opened the first page of my newspaper and came across the news that an elephant in a circus has crushed many children. I said to myself-‘crushed many children’. What does it mean? The number of victims could have been given. It’s a serious matter. Children have been crushed. I asked the correspondent on telephone. He said: "this news is absolutely false. I did not send it. How come it was published? When I returned at 11:30 after leaving the edition, this news was not there.” I reached office and enquired. In fact the name code of our newspaper was homophonic with another news agency. A gentleman who was a correspondent of that agency had sent the news that came to our address inadvertently and got published. Our correspondent was almost beaten up. Public had gheraoed our vehicles. On reaching office, I sent there an ex-administrative officer who was also our correspondent now. He went to the teleprinter office first of all and enquired whether the news had originated from there and got the reply –yes. Whether this is a true incident? The reply was –no. He further informed that the correspondent had advised him to do his work and that his job was to publish the news sent by the correspondent. Then they approached the owner of the circus. He said that some persons had approached and asked him to give advertisements for the agency. The owner replied that on account of the poor business of the circus, he would not be able to give advertisements. After that the correspondent was sending 15-20 persons every day with chits for free entry to the circus. The owner carried on with this for some days but could not sustain it for long and then the news that the "elephant went berserk and children were crushed" appeared. We wrote the whole report that day “the journalist, and not the elephant went berserk.”                                     
    I recommended to B.N. Jha, the secretary of journalist association of the state unit  at Patna to suspend the membership of that journalist with immediate effect. He did suspend him. However, this didn’t stop his business of blackmailing.  

    Some journalists used to be so powerful that they would manage security for themselves. The guard would be their domestic help, escort their children to school, would look after their shops and also ride the pillion of their motorcycles holding a cane (danda). This fourth pillar was neither less corrupt from top to bottom nor still is.                                      
    Whatever is being published or broadcast in the name of journalism and channel today exhibits continuous decline and downfall. The publications reflect herald less of good in society and more negative aspects. The media portrays women in a manner which shows them as a commodity or objects of sex, adversely affecting the attitudes of both men and women. You see any channel or pick up any newspaper, they seem to be bent upon portraying women as sex objects. There was a phase in history of media when full-fledged debates used to take place on the issue of exposure.  No sooner a journalist found an actress, than he asked her the question—what is your stand on exposure?                                   
     It aroused the curiosity of readers. The voyeurists increased in number. And most of the actresses aggravated this debate. I still remember the time when similar debates took place about rape scenes. Such a congenial atmosphere was created that rape scenes became synonymous with touching the pinnacle of art. Till the bygone year the same happened with the word ‘sexy’. When men and women ceased to be sexy anymore, collar, pen, cigarette, wine, and walet etc. came to be sexy in their place. Fed up with all this, once I had to write ultimately “There will come a day when sex will disappear from sex.” and it really has started disappearing in many societies. There also was a period, and it still persists, when the walls of post offices and hospitals carried messages ‘don’t forget to take your condom while leaving your home.’ I have at times felt that the government and the media have it as their ten years agenda to make women a commodity. Only a few month’s back a very renowned magazine had undertaken two surveys related to sex and published them alternately with a week’s gap, and I still do not know whether any decent family barred the entry of the issues in its home or not. The one subject was "fantasy". The other one recounted the prescriptions to succeed in the field of "fantasy".  And questions asked were like this one “how many times you have had the experience of pre-marital sex?” A reputed daily publishes the curiosities relating to the sex partners almost thrice a week and with titles such as –‘salvation’, ‘liberation’, and ‘temptation’. They publish the sexual achievements of heroines from across the world. And it must be kept in mind that still some fifty percent mothers may be counted as ideals but they appear nowhere in channels, in fictions or in films; whereas very few people can resist the temptation of portraying the opposite examples in one fictitious form or the other.  As far as dance and item girls are concerned, the film industry takes wildest flights of imagination in these areas. If such empowerment of woman continues in media for long, our homes will become battlefields of pain and misery. It appears as if our society is rolling down a slope and the careless media has doubled its velocity so that it reaches the nadir at the earliest. 


Translated by Dr. Ghanshyam Sharma.


Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati