“Living subserviently with injustice is probably just as wrong as actually doing it; but speaking up against injustice becomes much tougher when it requires one to deal with people who do not show the slightest trace of sensitivity or compassion”- These lines, quoted by columnist Lata Jha in one of her 2013 columns pointed towards the media reportage on various issues.
If we sit down to speak about insensitive media reportage, the list will go on and on. But the first thing that comes to one’s notice when we talk about insensitive media reportage is about the incidences like rape and other issues related to crime and general issues of women. In most of these cases, the presentation is made in such a way that all we get is ‘masala’ minus the actual news. In short, it is all about TRP (television rating point), which today’s media is running after. Even though TRP may not be the exact word to use for the print media sensation, but going by the context of the matter and its sensitivity, we can say that not just the TV media, but even the print media hankers after TRP.
Over the years we have made so much progress that today one doesn’t require to be a genius to realise how a lot of stories are framed and plotted, aiming to add spice to a particular incident by describing it in a dramatic way and adding a lot of unnecessary noise- both audio and visual.
“If we take the presentation of an incident of rape today by different channels, then the most important aspect of the entire issue seems to be how the perpetrators usually appear on the scene, catch hold of the victim and commit the crime. Another new strategy is the aura of mystique and thrill that’s added to the reportage by describing the role of the police in either helping the victim identify the criminals or cutting figures of the stereotypical, corrupt, boorish cops. It’s like a horribly written movie script,” says Sandipan Sahu, an Odisha-based journalist.
The Assam story
Coming back to our own state Assam, sometimes back, one particular channel aired a programme that targeted the women in shorts. The concerned reporter took full liberty in saying that these women in shorts have maligned the Assamese culture and for them ‘culture means to expose only’. The presentation of the said news was so filthy that even a C-grade Bollywood sex movie would feel shy.
“Here we have to look into one thing that the particular channel’s viewership was far lesser in comparison to some others. This particular programme helped to gather a lot of negative publicity for the channel and today, many people, who earlier, probably, skipped the channel, watch it with a hope of watching a similar programme again,” adds a Guwahati-based senior journalist seeking anonymity arising due to professional obligations.
“It is rotten from the top and everything needs to be changed from the top. Sometimes, I feel ashamed to identify myself as a journalist,” he further adds.
Print media TRP
The race for TRP or viewership or readership is not new and it has existed right from the days of print media. I still remember reading one piece of news some 20-22 years back in one of the leading Assamese weekly tabloids.
Late Hiteshwar Saikia was the then Chief Minister of Assam and the particular news item was about the confession of a petty thief.
“I am CM’s man, confesses thief Rafikul”- was the headline of the news and naturally it caught my attention and I went through the news. The front page had some 20-25 lines of the entire story and the remaining part was published at an inside page. So I immediately turned to that page and read the news at one go and when I finished reading, I was thoroughly disappointed. Even though I was 8-10 years of age then, reading something unfruitful used to drive me crazy.
So the event was like this – a thief named Rafikul was caught in Adabari while he was trying to lift a passenger’s bag. After a good public thrashing, he was handed over to Jalukbari Police. During the investigation, it was found that Rafikul belonged to a small village in Barpeta and his brother-in-law was having a ‘paan’ shop in Guwahati’s Survey area. His shop was near the house of the driver whose some relative used to work at the Assam Secretariat and was very close to the PA of the Chief Minister. Joining these lines, the concerned reporter came up with that particular headline. I am sure a number of readers were fooled like me.
Here I would like to share a recent incident. There was some bus accident in Chaygaon area. The accident wasn’t that serious and nobody was even seriously injured. But a local correspondent had some scores to settle with the local MLA; so he put in so much ‘masala’ into the news that it found space as the second lead on the front page. Later on, the news was picked up by other channels and papers as well and it had created a lot of sensation.
“To sensationalise has become an art, which most of the journalists and the media houses – especially from Assam – have mastered upon. They skip the vital issues and pick up trivial issues. In the case of TV media, especially in Assam, I would say, nothing is good. The script, the voice over, the reporter giving bytes, the questions asked and everything else. They are not just poor, but pathetic,” said another Guwahati-based journalist seeking anonymity.
“Why to blame just the TV media, even our print media is no good. The headlines are poor, the designs are poor and moreover, they try every act in the book to attract more and more readers,” he added.
The way forward
Like I always say, ‘Media is just the index of the society and what we show or write is actually what the society, at large, wants to see or read’. If four guys are standing together and two girls in shorts pass by, filthy comments are bound to come out and the particular news channel about which I mentioned earlier was simply reflecting the society’s mentality. But yes, being a media person, we have some responsibilities and we should shun ourselves from creating sensation.
A former TV journalist once said somewhere that he used to receive calls from people when a girl and a boy sat in the corner of a park or someone was partying in his own house.
“People want to come into the news. They enjoy creating sensation and in many cases, it is the public who creates the news and it’s then passed on to the reporters. What these reporters lack is cross checking. Since they find ‘masala’, they simply run the news without thinking twice. But the public can’t be spared either from this unwanted TRP race either,” he quoted.
The Sheena Bora murder case, which created waves across the media fraternity of the nation and newspapers and channels carried each and every single incident related to the case in detail, if one hand drew flak from ‘sensible’ journalists, it also impacted negative in many viewers’ psyche.
As per one news published at Times of India (September 4, 2015), one 10-year-old boy of Delhi, in a note, wrote that he was an illegitimate child and his mother had numerous affairs since her face resembled with that of Indrani Mukherjee – prime accused in the case.
As a media person, I would say that we need TRP since the high rate of TRP means we will have more advertisers and thus more salary for us. But on the run to get more TRP, we should not forget the basic ethos of journalism. A Little restraint is always better. The journalists should get us trained as I feel the problem has popped up only due to the crowd of so many untrained journalists. Nevertheless, until such a day comes, the ugly race of TRP would continue and the minds would continue to get polluted!