Higher literacy and increased media clout are making vested interests hot under the collar

The violence unleashed on media personnel at the City Civil Court complex here on Friday has served to bring into focus not only the threat posed to the freedom of press from vested interests but also its growing clout in shaping public opinion by aggressively bringing to light “inconvenient” facts in public interest.

If a section of advocates saw red after the media highlighted the hardship caused to lakhs of hapless commuters trapped in the seven-hour road blockade on January 17, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party was clearly embarrassed when three of its Ministers were caught live on TV watching porn clips during the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly on February 7.

Land scams

In the last few months, the media has exposed a host of alleged misdeeds of powerful sections of society in illegal denotification of land and the irregularities in the allotment of land by various housing co-operative societies, including one for judicial department employees.

Though newspapers have been exposing scams for decades, the advent of television news channels, enjoying the advantage of real-time delivery of news coupled with the visual element, has added to the impact of the media on the public. Increasing levels of literacy and accessibility to newspapers have also served to lend further media's clout, pointed out R.N. Padmanabha, retired journalism teacher. It may not be a coincidence that a day before media personnel were chased and attacked by a section of lawyers in the City Civil Court Complex, TV channels' representatives were forced to defend themselves before an Assembly committee for telecasting the damning porn video. Observers say the grilling by the porn probe panel and attacks on journalists are manifestations of growing intolerance against the media for laying bare discomfiting facts. “Any effort by the media to question the system and bring out the truth faces strong resistance by vested interests,” Mahendra Mishra, director of TV9 and News9, told The Hindu. “When the media is doing its duty to place facts before the public, the ones who find the truth uncomfortable become intolerant,” he said.

TV journalists The Hindu spoke to are unanimous in their opinion that the cross-examination by the Assembly panel and the Civil Court Complex are an “attempt to gag the media”. “They are symptomatic of a malaise,” said a television journalist.

Self-regulation

However, the electronic media is also aware of the need to ensure self-regulation. “There may be lack of professionalism among some television channels. For instance, repeated telecast of the MLAs watching the porn clip by some channels without blurring it is admittedly a disgrace. Hence, there is also need for self-regulation among television channels on the lines of Press Council of India under which only print media falls,” said a channel representative.

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