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Indian Media & The Circus

December 3, 2010

I perhaps shouldn’t pay attention to some random comments people have made on my blog regarding my job. But the point is, I have left half written drafts about the media in India, simply because I was too busy trying to get facts for my job. The one that pays.

For those who haven’t heard of it already (and this time it would be a vast majority) – some bigwigs in the media industry are involved in one of the biggest scams in Indian media/politics. Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi – to name a few.

Their offense? They crossed the line.

Every journalist knows there is a give-and-take policy with the flak. We make small compromises… a positively placed story in return for a bunch of other facts and such. Yes. It happens in media. Across the world. The problem comes when you turn from the watchdog into just… well, the lapdog. (Okay that was a little harsh). But when you start parroting what the PR feeds you, when you start asking the PR what you should write… you aren’t a reporter anymore.

We are taught in journalism class to strip out ALL the adjectives in a press release, unless they are really negative. It is the PR’s job to put them and ours to take it out.

The saddest thing here is Barkha Dutt is the face of Indian journalism. Ironically, what the public doesn’t recognize, that is because of the stuff she has done. It isn’t easy to get to her position. Toes are stepped on. I said this in my last article – “every person who signed up to be a reporter has some idealism in them. At least when we start out. We are all idealists who are brutally abused by the system, or by what we see, and we choose to either go bitterly cynical, or simply say ‘screw it’ and give the people what they want.”

I’m not sure which category Barkha Dutt fits in. I’m not a fan of Barkha Dutt. I admired Khuswant Singh, Tarun Tejpal, Maya Sharma. Barkha Dutt seemed more suited to the reality TV age. Perhaps my image of her was influenced by stories I had heard about her… but there you go.

It is horribly disappointing to me to hear that the Indian media has gone this way. But is it a surprise? Not really. Indian television and some other media is driven by advertising revenues (as I mentioned in my earlier post too). Any form of the media that has such sheer commercial interests cannot be objective. Times of India is one of the largest selling newspapers in the country. How much news content does it really have? Why do you read it? How many of my readers here subscribe to TOI? If you didn’t want sensationalism, there wouldn’t be a reality TV now, or crappy sting operations that wade into the grey area, or Big Boss or the million other reality shows.

We thrive on gossip. We love scandals. We like to get dirt on the others. And so the media dishes it out to you and boosts up their ad statements.

I’m not going on tirade against the public. I hate it that the Indian media has come down to this. But the point is… there are those people who still truly care about making a difference. As one of the people who commented pointed out, “why generalize and say all people are corrupt”

I never said that. The government has a few good people (and I’ve had the luck to interact with them). But it is hard to stick to that levels of idealism. It is hard to make a difference. It needs a collective effort to make a difference.

Indians, by large, are apathetical. Most of the Indian media has been silent about this issue. The two magazines that did speak about it – Outlook and Open – I wonder what’ll happen to them. My respect for the editor of Open magazine has gone up ten-fold. They are a small magazine who were struggling and were rumoured to be really short on funds. They wouldn’t last more than a few months, it was said. Maybe it was a last ditch effort… but kudos to them for putting it up.

I really do not have the time to write more… of course stones will be thrown now. Ironically, the media is responsible for the whole charade again. Through their silence, they’ve sensationalized this issue again. Is this what it really takes for us to wake up? Did nobody hear the alarm calls many of us had been saying for the past 3-4 years?

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