Vice-President Hamid Ansari warned on Thursday that commercialisation of news content for revenue generation could damage the country’s polity and economy.
“The recent practice of leveraging political and economic content in our media for overt and covert revenue generation have the malevolent potential to tarnish our polity and even destabilise the economy,” he said inaugurating the M.C. Varghese memorial lecture series organised by the Mangalam group of publications (Kerala) founded by M.C. Varghese.
Mr. Ansari said the Editors Guild of India and the Press Council of India had investigated the “phenomenon of electoral malpractices of paid news and coverage packages.”
“It is now clear that amongst the pillars of democracy, it is only the Fourth Estate that has an identifiable business and commercial persona.
“The pursuit of profit has altered the profile of the media entrepreneur. Today, a media enterprise is seen as a necessary subsidiary for a growing business enterprise, a political party and even individuals seeking to leverage public influence for private gain.”
Commercial success of media organisations had become a function of advertising revenues rather than subscription and circulation figures. The advertisers had thus replaced the recipients of media products. By the same logic, circulation figures, meant to attract advertising, became more important than content.
“Deception, opaque flow of political information, or slanted economic data” prevented political and economic actors from exercising rational and well-considered choices, Mr. Ansari said. They impeded the democratic process and could lead to public disenchantment.
Due to rampant media growth and the phenomenon of convergence of news media, entertainment and telecom, the demarcation among journalism, public relations, advertising and entertainment was rapidly eroding.
“Vibrant journalism monitors the exercise of power in the State and stands for the rights and freedoms of citizens. It informs and empowers citizens rather than entertains and titillates them. Vibrant journalism is based on professional ethics and should be the rule rather than the exception it has come to be.”
Mr. Ansari, in his tribute to Varghese, stated that his rise from a newspaper boy to the head of the Mangalam Group was a source of inspiration to every journalist, entrepreneur and social activist.
Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan said media should “present accurate and balanced reports.”
He called for introspection on the recent commercialisation of the media which had “some adverse effect on journalistic practices.”
When media establishments became preoccupied with the size of their readership or viewership, there was a greater likelihood of journalists resorting to intrusive newsgathering methods and editors approving content without verifying the relevant facts or explaining their proper background. While practices such as ‘sting-operations’ and high-decibel reporting might be justified in exceptional circumstances, they should not be resorted to as a matter of routine. Especially with regard to the legal system, there had been a raging debate about how unrestrained reporting often diluted the ‘right to fair trial’ for the accused in high-profile cases.
Price war flayed
Mathrubhoomi Publications group Chairman and Managing Director M.P. Veerendrakumar hit out at some big corporate media houses for initiating price war and commercialisation of news content which affected small and medium newspapers. The media groups should function like a community and should not try to destroy or dominate each other. This sort of competition was “unethical” and a danger to democracy, he said.