Eminent journalists on Saturday questioned the media reaction to criticism by the Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal. Of the view that the media should be open to criticism that is “legitimate and long overdue,” Chairman of Kasturi & Sons Ltd. and publisher of The Hindu N. Ram said: “the hype and overreaction makes us look like a laughing stock.”
He was speaking at a panel discussion on ‘The State of the Media Today’ after the release of journalist Sashi Kumar’s book Unmediate: Essays on Media, Culture, Cinema here.
Echoing similar views, Mr. Kumar said when Mr. Kejriwal criticises the media, he does so with the knowledge that there is antagonism within the public towards the media.
“Unfortunately when people outside the media criticise us, we have a very thin skin,”' Mr. Ram said, identifying hyper-commercialisation and trivialisation as some of the ills plaguing the media, apart from the rogue tendencies that Mr. Kejriwal spoke about. Stating that it was time to look at the vices that have crept into journalism and not just celebrate the growth of the media, Mr. Ram wondered whether the phenomenon of “paid news” was confined to election season.
Maintaining that everything had become “momentous and momentary” for the media without any contextualisation, National Affairs Editor of The Telegraph Manini Chatterjee questioned the latest trend of television channels using feed provided by the BJP and the Congress of their rallies without sending correspondents to the field.
“If Mamata Banerjee had provided that kind of feed to channels of her Delhi rally, people would not have known that only 2,000 people turned up,” she said dwelling on the way the media was manufacturing a “reality”' and then using it to generate a discourse.
Mr. Kumar lamented that objectivity appeared to have become redundant in journalism; “subjectivity is masquerading as objective.” While TRPs were driving the visual media, the print medium was allowing television to set the agenda, he added. This phenomenon was summed up by economist Prabhat Patnaik as “tyranny of the discourse.”
With the panellists painting a bleak picture of the media, members of the audience questioned their failure to provide solutions and pointed out that self-regulation had obviously failed. “We are being told nothing has happened in 60 years in this country. Whole past has been demolished,” pointed out Dinesh Mohan of the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, wondering why newspapers and magazines were not challenging the lies peddled by some media houses.
Replying to the point made by an oncologist about the absence of solutions, Mr. Ram said: “There is no easy solution, any more than we have for curing cancer.” Calling for professionalism and codification of values and practices, he conceded that self-regulation was not working within the visual media. The Press Council was not only a toothless body but was also infested with representatives from the newspaper industry. “There is a need to have something radically different.”