Justice Markandey Katju’s views about the Indian media are evoking different responses within the media notwithstanding what the average viewer or reader thinks about it. Karan Thapar’s interview with the Chairman of the Press Council of India and the follow-up media debate show on CNN-IBN last Friday reflects the direction of the debate.
For a long time we have debated the utility of Press Council of India and its “toothless” institutional status. However, when its chairman shares his opinion contrary to the so called free market philosophy of the mainstream media it sparks off a debate.
Some of the issues the chairman pointed out (could have been in a milder tone) are in the public domain and may not find space or time in the media. Introspection by the media is needed. If trivia beyond the tolerance of the viewers is heaped on them in the name of free market we need to worry about ourselves as viewers or our leaders of media in their editorial chambers. Time for INS or the broadcasters group to conduct a nationwide survey on what the public think about what they offer. All that it needs is perhaps a quarter of their valuable space and a fraction of channel time.
On the issue of dividing the society, stereotyping etc., we positively need to improve beyond our nascent status and separate news from views. The judiciary has often pointed out and many a time also castigated the media for its overzealousness in matters pertaining to crime and terrorism related incidents. It needs to reflect on its campaign style coverage. The medium takes the credit and very often the message and messenger are sidelined.
The quality of journalists is another concern. This is an area where perhaps the “J” schools should introspect more and since media itself has found a profitable outlet in starting programmes they can perhaps take this more seriously. Universities that have potentially a better role in this sector given their broad base in diverse academic fields are constrained by a set of other factors that can be easily remedied.
The human resources in media are not uniform in the sense that reportage comes from a variety of sources which in turn depend on their respective radars for information. Spontaneity and ticker tape breaking news allows for little time to sift through the report and make it more meaningful to the viewer. When this happens it does give rise to a charge that media persons are less equipped to handle the complexity of the news or event they are reporting. Human resources for the media are no doubt an issue.
While the media hovers over other activities of the society it needs to introspect on its own wage structure, recruitment policy, and effective mechanisms of news collection. The economics of news gathering operations, as they would claim, does not allow for quality news. Partly, we as public are also to be blamed for not wanting to pay more for quality content. The circulation wars of the past and our short term gains of reduction in prices of newspapers less than its price in the wastepaper market have cost us dearly.
On the issue of the future of Press Council of India or an expanded Media Council the inevitable fourth estate argument that the government should not have anything to do with media regulation seems to reign supreme. Now that we have a self regulating council for broadcasters can we at least have a few minutes weekly slot wherein we come to know the nature of complaints and what has been done about them and who has been held accountable? Hopefully, Nikhil Wagle was serious when he called for a media lokpal on the show called The Last Word on CNN IBN.