1 week, 3 examples: Falling standards of India media


By Rifat Jawaid

Follow the author on twitter @RifatJawaid

Indian army on Thursday suffered one of its worst losses when militants in Manipur ambushed and attacked the convoy of 6 Dogra regiment of the 26 Sector of IGAR South (Imphal), killing more than a dozen soldiers.

It was a huge development given that the last time Indian army lost more than a dozen men in uniform in ambush was way back in 1992 when three officers and 10 men of the Indian army’s Gurkha regiment were killed by the NSCN.

As expected, this development failed to find coverage on Indian TV channels as much as it deserved. At www.jantakareporter.com, we had very little doubt about the massive editorial value in this story. No sooner had my contact from the north-east informed me about this development, we decided to go big on this editorial. One of my young colleagues said “this story isn’t getting much traction on social media.”

I told him not to bother about the number of retweets, favourites or likes this report attracted on social media platforms.

I reminded him that our editorial judgement must be made keeping the audiences’ aspiration in mind and not our social media outreach. Surely, social media is an important tool, which not only allows to bring in new audience to the website, but also helps us to shout about our high impact content. But, our audience often need editorial guidance on both big and small stories alike. After all, we are the ones with editorial brains. At least that’s what we claim, don’t we?

Almost an hour after we flashed this report, others followed. But the headlines soon disappeared from most of their screens. One leading English channel in particular began announcing the big debate it was planning to hold on #SayYesToYoga in its prime time slot on Thursday night.

There was little doubt in anybody’s mind that for this channel, the killing of over a dozen Indian soldiers had less news value than some people objecting to yoga on religious grounds. The channel in question decided to show its outrage against the ‘objection’ to an idea, championed by no less a person than the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Not so long ago, we had an extraordinary incident of religious intolerance, just 30 kms away from the national capital. 150 people were forced to flee from their village in Atali in Haryana’s Faridabad district while a group of 2000 strong thugs burnt their houses, properties and place of worship. All because these members of minority community wanted to construct a place of worship for themselves after getting permission from the court. It was unacceptable to the bigots, who argued that the minority community had no business to worship the God of their choice in India of 2015.

These riot victims have been camping in Ballabhgarh’s city police station since May 20 demanding justice, but it hasn’t been enough to shake the collective conscience of our so-called conscience keepers within our media fraternity. I don’t remember any channel bothering to hold a single hard-hitting debate on Haryana government’s apathy towards these riot victims. And they claim to fly the flag for journalism in India. Can there be anything more ironic?

On Thursday, we also had Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley address a news conference primarily to ‘allay fears’ over the impact of delayed monsoon on India’s economy. His press conference came just couple of days after the Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan’s announcement to cut interest rate and almost a week after it was reported that India had ‘edged past’ China in GDP growth in Jan-March quarter.

Rajan in his news conference questioned the story of this extraordinary GDP growth adding that the higher GDP growth numbers and abysmal corporate earnings particularly in the absence of any signs in the consumer demand were contradictory.

Thursday would have been a perfect opportunity for any journalist to ask Jaitley to comment on the RBI governor’s comments. No one could muster the courage to ask a single question on this subject to India’s finance minister. I don’t know the reason behind their inability to ask what was a logical question in the context of last week’s development. Whatever the reason, it was an example of very bad journalism.

That’s what happens when corporate houses, often in bed with the ruling parties, run large media houses. There’s an urgent need for common public or aam janta to come forward to support groups of honest journalists, who’ve made initiatives towards cleansing the rot in the media. Even if the news consuming public contributed with what they pay towards their monthly newspaper subbscription, it will go a long way in strengthening the ongoing efforts of upright journalists.

(Photo courtesy: Tehelka)