There is an increasing tendency of anticipatory obedience on part of journalists to impress the rulers through the media owners and unfortunately this is believed to be absolutely right by them, opined former Supreme Court judge B. Sudarshan Reddy.
He was sharing his views at a seminar on - Media: print, electronic and social – ethical standards - organised by the Telangana State Union of Working Journalists (TUWJ) in association with Press Club, Hyderabad, here as a prelude to the 10th plenary of Indian Journalists Union (IJU).
Giving an example, he said studies showed that 0.67% front page coverage is given to rural India in an election year and it’s much less in a non-election year. In the first half of 2020, more than 2,000 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra alone, but the media seized the opportunity to focus on unfortunate suicide of actor Sushant Rajput.
Justice Reddy said the actor’s suicide was made into a visual treat by the media while those managing them made it into political warfare. During the same period, suicides of farmers got just 7 minutes of prime time. Ethical standards are compromised as narratives are built elsewhere than the news rooms, he argued while agreeing that there are still concerned journalists.
India is one of the biggest markets with thousands of newspapers, 1,000 satellite news channels, and 600 FM stations, and few individuals want to control and capitalise such vast market, he felt.
Referring to the Supreme Court observations on unfettered freedom in the context of hate speech, he said the time has come to define what hate speech is but no authority is ready to define it. When hate speech is for profit, and profit is the only motto, what we require is a comprehensive approach on this, he observed.
Who defines ethical standards is also a question as the majority of media houses have other businesses, he said adding that the media houses should know where to act and how to act. These are however difficult decisions. He also rued the declining fair-mindedness of rulers while giving advertisements. This is where the neo-liberal economy and its favoured children created favoured news.
Justice Reddy recalled the Supreme Court’s observations on reasonable restrictions must for media before it completely destroys democracy.
Retired professor of journalism at Osmania University, Padmaja Shaw felt that ‘Murdochisation’ of media, where every journalistic norm and practice is broken, and criminalisation politics, also got into media acceptability.
She recalled how the Australian-American businessman Rupert Murdoch made his Fox news channel financially and politically viable through unethical practices and said the same model is being followed by Indian channels.
While telling truth has become a risk in the present scenario for journalists, the web tool technologies like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram changed the information ecology producing instant disinformation on an industrial scale. Harmful and untruthful information is being spread rapidly by youngsters who don’t even understand the implications.
IJU president, K. Sreenivas Reddy presided.