Friday Review

Media scan

Documentary filmmaker Umesh Aggarwal Photo: Rajeev Bhatt   | Photo Credit: Rajeev Bhatt

“Paid news is not the cancer in the system. It is the system.” Thus ends Umesh Aggarwal's 2012 documentary, “Brokering News – Media, Money and Middlemen”. A study of the invasion of paid news and the erosion of ethics in Indian media, the documentary produced by PSBT recently won a Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award under the 'Uncovering India Invisible' category.

While the film's focus was on the transformations in the media in the previous decade, culminating with the implosion of the Radia tapes, the issues raised in it haven't lost their salience. Recent events suggest media independence is in dire threat, with the corporate takeover of media houses, and the attendant tweaking of editorial policies. The institution of the editor too, Aggarwal says, has weakened considerably.

Talking about what prompted the film, the director says, “I as an individual who used to watch news with great interest, suddenly started losing interest around 2010-11. I could feel a contradiction; one day we were told something, and the next day we were told the exact opposite.” He also felt that in the garb of news, channels were actually delivering entertainment. “It became an alternative to saas bahu serials.”

A cover story in Outlook magazine on the paid news menace proved the trigger for the film. Armed with the experience of having produced “Newswatch”, a media watch programme on Doordarshan in the '90s, Aggarwal started researching the film. “I thought no one would be willing to talk on camera, but very senior people talked very openly about the changes in the profession,” he says.

Among those interviewed in the film are senior journalists Vinod Mehta, Rajdeep Sardesai, Sucheta Dalal, Shobhaa De, Pradeep Magazine and Mrinal Pande. Through their testimonies, the film uncovers the collusion between journalists and those they are supposed to report on – be it politicians, corporations, filmstars or sportspersons. The film also lays bare the problem of paid news, afflicting English media as well vernacular media.

While Aggarwal admits that the scrutiny media is subjected to is more than ever before, he cautions that this is perhaps true only of English media. Unless similar tools are available for those who do not consume their news in English, the dream of a free and independent media would remain a distant one, he says.

Having previously tackled issues such as caste based reservations, corporate malpractice and coal mine fires in his films, Aggarwal is now working on a documentary that tracks the life and music of A.R. Rahman.

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2020 10:02:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/media-scan/article6379837.ece

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