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Etc and the Media
by Ankita Kumar

"The role of journalism should be service. The Press is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges the whole countryside and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy."
Mahatma Gandhi 

The world of media today has come as close to Dante’s hell as possible. The rich and the powerful get all the attention and all the poor get, is a fleeting glance and that too only if they are the victims of the exploitation of the rich, as in the Black Buck and the Sohrabuddin case or if it involves huge masses, as in the Nithari case. Every possible story is dramatized and absurd questions like “How did you feel when you learnt that your child was murdered?” are asked which further humiliate and distress the victims and their families.

Almost all news channels show the same mundane stuff as a result these, though watched by millions of viewers can’t be called news channels but are better suited as ‘Entertainment’ channels. Pure unadulterated gossip like the break ups of the Page 3ites, the new hairstyles sported by Brittney Spears, the rivalry between ‘Hammer’ Khan and the Big B, and how can I dare forget the incessant coverage of the Abhi-Ash wedding and that of other businessmen, cricketers and film stars which are constantly made into national issues. And core issues like the farmer suicides, the neglect of the victims of AIDS, the destitute who are crushed down by drunkards, the growing infant mortality rate, hardly ever come to the lime light. The height was, when a Major in the Indian Army was shot dead at Anantnag while chasing one of the most wanted criminals, on the same day as the verdict of Sanjay Dutt was being passed. While the minute by minute proceedings of the court were recorded, there was no news of the Major. Furthermore, the only News channel which had covered this news was BBC.

The Professor Sabharwal episode is another example of how naive the media has become. When Prof. Sabharwal was murdered by the ABVP activists, all the evidence was available with the media and the police had called it an ‘Open and Shut case’. Then, when the hearing came closer, out of the blue all the photographs and videos of the incident went missing even though there were at least 12 photographers and 6 camera men including those of the local news channels present when this incident had occurred. The media too washed its hands off this case after touching upon the facts a little bit.

The Richard Gere-Shilpa Shetty kiss was witnessed by 4000 truck drivers in an AIDS awareness programme and they were hardly affected by it. However due to the unnecessary media intervention, this issue was trivialized and as a result the situation was completely jeopardized and became an international issue.

The pictures of the Liz Hurley-Arun Nayar wedding were sold to “Hello” magazine at 2 million dollars, even though this wedding was nothing when compared to the Abhi-Ash wedding. The Abhi-Ash wedding was publicized, right from the invitation cards to the invitees, information about the place from which the mehendi was brought, to interviewing the phoolwala, every trifling aspect of the wedding was covered. When Amitabh Bachchan apologized to the media it made headlines and there was even a special feature done on Hrithik and Shahrukh and their growing camaraderie since both of them were not invited to the “Wedding of the Year”. This story had become so hackneyed and clichéd that as soon as people saw the word “Abhi-Ash”, they would switch over to some other news channel only to find the same stuff there too.

However it is unfair not to credit the media for the good it has done.

"People who mould opinions are greater than those who make laws," Abe Lincoln once said and the contribution made by NDTV in completely transforming the judgment of the Jessica Lall, Priyadarshini Mattoo and the Nitish Katara case is a perfect example. The kind of national furor it caused, compelled the Indian judiciary to give a fair and fast decision in spite of these being high profile cases.

Many other news channels also do regular stories on issues like poverty, deprivation and squalor. The farmer suicides to the dying babies in a Kerala hospital the media has brought many such issues to the limelight. It is pertinent to note that without the media, the Nithari case wouldn’t have come to surface. It won’t be incorrect to say that it was primarily because of media intervention that the police went beyond the case of Payal, the prostitute for whose murder Moninder Pandher and Surinder Koli had been accused and investigated the various other cases of the missing children of Nithari which had been neglected since two years.

The recent Mecca blast saw the media abet in helping people contact each other by displaying the messages of relatives on the news channels and also by helping the victims reach their families. The current Black BMW episode and the Sohrabuddin encounter case are also being closely watched by the media and I am sure that the media intercession will help bring justice.

The message is clear: that if the media wants, it can provide succor to the poor and needy and help bring immense changes for the better.

H.K. Mencken, the former Editor of 'Baltimore Sun' said, "The function of the press is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

The media today is not only afflicting the comfortable but are also making life even more miserable for the afflicted. So can we pin any hopes on the present day media? I’m sure we can. The media can play a positive role in our lives only if it sheds showcasing the trivial aspects of life which ‘entertain’ the masses and make up their minds to highlight the imperative aspects of our living which can spread awareness and help in the development and wellbeing of the people.  

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