A handful of ‘experts’ who hop from one TV channel to another for debates have a common agenda of protecting certain interests, says a study

In the past few decades television news has emerged as a major source for shaping public opinion across the country. But a media think-tank survey finds that the opinion on any given issue, which is attributed to the public, is in fact “manufactured.” There is just a small group of “experts” involved in “forming a public opinion or rather imposing” a particular opinion or view on the public.

Contrary to media claims about representation of the country, all shades of opinion are hardly represented. Three surveys on different issues and of different time spans from 1975 (when Emergency was declared in the country) to 2011 undertaken by the Media Studies Group highlight that “opinion formulated by media is in one direction. The space of alternative view on any issue and policy matter is negligible in the media.”

The chairman of the Media Studies Group and senior journalist Anil Chamadia says, “We wanted to understand various aspects of creating consent, propagation of agenda which suits to a particular set of people.”

Mr. Chamadia says the findings of the survey show the “media, by default, provides its platform to a small and select social group which in turn influence what opinion media forms and transmits to its readers, listeners and viewers as ‘consensus of society’”. This is how, Mr. Chamadia says, “consensus” is created and imposed on millions.

“Every night prime time comes with a new issue but screenplay and actors remain the same. A handful of ‘experts’, who hop from one channel to another, have a common agenda of protecting certain interests. In fact, these familiar faces on prime time TV have “painted all news channels in one colour.”

Mr. Chamadia said, “June 25 being Emergency Day, I want to say that freedom of press was muzzled during emergency by censorship, but interestingly there is not much difference between government controlled media during emergency and corporate media of the present day.”

The study shows that between 1975 and 1977 Doordarshan (DD) — the first television channel of India which has a footprint over 79 per cent of the nation and reaches 91.2 per cent of the population — invited a total of 128 journalists 400 times to television debates.

In the Delhi Kendra of DD, 187 opportunities were given to 33 journalists, which is the highest among all kendras, 17.64 per cent people occupied the entire space. While in Srinagar Kendra 13 journalists were invited 50 times, Amritsar Kendra invited 25 journalists 55 times where as in Mumbai 23 journalists were invited 53 times.

Gender bias was clearly visible in choice of panellists in studio based programmes of DD during emergency. The study shows that out of 128 only six female journalists were given a chance in programmes by all DD Kendras with the percent of participation as low as 4.69.

Another important finding points to dominance of English language media being maintained as well as gender bias. Mr. Chamadia feels the expansion and reach of media both in terms of finance and penetration, and technological advancement has not “changed or challenged” the monopoly of a few in opinion making and thought process. “In fact these monopolies are getting more consolidated with the advancement of the news media industry,” he comments.

The study by journalists Vijay Pratap and Arun Oraon analysed 15 TV debates on corruption in defence deals on both Hindi and English channels including NDTV India, IBN 7, Zee News, NDTV 24X7, CNN-IBN and Times Now. It revealed that 54 people participated in these studio discussions of which only five were women. As many as 17 participants were former defence personnel (31 per cent). One former defence officer alone participated in six such programmes clocking 25 per cent of participation. Three former defence personnel in three programmes each – in this way 7 former defence personnel went on air in 24 programmes and among these 7 ex-defence officers were seen in all programmes telecast by turn.

A total of 17 representatives of five political parties participated in these debates (31 per cent).But of the five political parties, the Congress and BJP together eclipsed 82 per cent representation.

The study shows that in various programmes of Lok Sabha TV from January to July 2011, a total of 979 people participated in 2000 slots which were largely in English. There were 11 participants who were seen on 167 occasions during the seven months. Out of the total 3431 participants, these 11 constitute only 0.55 per cent but their participation was 8.35 per cent. Select Members of Parliament dominated the Lok Sabha screen. Arjun Ram Meghwal of the BJP, ex-MP Ramnath Kovid and P.L. Punia of the Congress were invited eight times each by the channel.

Mr. Chamadia says in both state-owned public broadcasting and corporate-controlled private media there is no structure present and no thought process involved as to who will participate in panel discussion on issues of public importance. This depends on wisdom of few individuals who are at helm of affairs.