Famously regarded as the fourth pillar of the Indian democracy, the television media in India has expanded both in its purview and responsibilities. It appears to be diverting from its presumed duty of divulging unbiased and neutral information, and from existing as a platform where people can raise and share their opinions — a phenomenon that has caught the attention of news viewers. Primetime debates on TV news channels look no longer like debates, and resemble more like an entertainment show catering to a man in search for a mood change after the day’s tiring work. Arguably, not every panellist’s point of view is addressed in these debates, resulting in a discussion that is heavily biased and sometimes confusing. Surprisingly, viewers tend to be more attracted towards the rhetoric of host and the speakers rather than the outcome of these debates.
Shortcomings of the Indian television media
The quality of reportage by TV channels have raised questions by many sections of society. An instance of astonishing reportage by the TV media is the consistent impression of a fellow politician’s character upon the viewers. While a politician’s actions might be suggesting a positive assertion, such a reportage does not allow time and space to alter the negative image in the eyes of the people. Another shortcoming is the range of news coverage by some of the Hindi news channels, ostensibly labelled as “mainstream” and “national” news channels. Their coverage is remotely pan-India and grossly inadequate — in case it is not known — the 2015 Chennai floods took 3 days to hit the headlines of these news channels; environment issues and tribal affairs fail to find a space in their news ticker. Rarely does one see a news from the Northeast in these channels, and if the Northeast seems far enough, a state like Odisha (which is among the most neglected by the Central government, but the most mineral-rich in India) has a similar story to tell. Little coverage of these areas amounts to little public awareness, leading to reduced scope of outreach and development in these areas. No wonder the organization National Socialist Council of Nagaland- Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) is, to this day, demanding a separate flag and passport for their proposed Greater Nagalim region. Apparently, the only time a person in the north hears of Kanyakumari is in the phrase Kashmir se Kanyakumari tak, most popularly pitched in political speeches in Hindi. Compare this with coverage of the NCR and the North India, and the difference will be all too clear to justify. In all this, the fundamental problem is in the news coverage, and to a greater extent in them being labelled as “national” news channels. How can a channel with a grossly limited coverage be dubbed as a national channel?
It is not only the political affairs that lack their due coverage. Various sports in India marred by minimal coverage have a similar story to tell. Undoubtedly Cricket has a massive fan following in India, perhaps more than all other professional sports combined. Is it then not the right time that other sports like be popularised and promoted? No doubt, the government and the various sports bodies have a role to play, but the media can play an even larger role because of its wide reach and popularity. This assumes greater importance at a time when our country is sending the largest-ever contingent for the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil.
Shaping our perception
While a person is entitled to her opinion on a personal level, the same is not true for a news channel which is expected to be all-encompassing to as much an extent as possible. News is expected to be presented as it is without manipulation, and the final judgement of a right or a wrong should be left for the media audience to decide. Moreover, hunting down a single person or a group, for more TRP, and not giving them their due time and space to defend, sets a bad precedent for journalism in our country as this diminishes the distinct roles and responsibilities of the media. In light of the recent controversy regarding the Islamic preacher Zakir Naik, the media trial against him was regrettable. Several TV news channels stepped out of their expected roles of unbiasedness and left no stones unturned in shaping public’s opinion against him. Another incident involved the comedian Tanmay Bhat’s video that went viral in the social media. Though it might be too late to comment on this issue but it still stands relevant: Tanmay Bhat was already made a scapegoat before he could appear in the public to defend himself. The same thing happened in the case of the JNU incident where one of the students, Umar Khalid, was lambasted in a live TV debate and not allowed to put forth his argument. The media trial that followed is known to all. In such incidents, common questions arise: Is this kind of action by media justified? What is the TV news media creating — an informed public or a misguided mob?
It should be noted that is the same media which airs a high-level coverage on Salman Khan’s acquittal from the Bombay High Court but fails to discover about Kailash Satyarthi and his works until he is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Because of incident such as this, there is a high chance of the public missing out on issues of social importance. Isn’t it the responsibility of the media to make more and more voices heard, and not just the popular ones?
In this age of globalization, it has become all the more important for us as citizens to be aware of the prevailing situations and develop a tendency to engage, if not appreciate, a different perspective, even on a non-permanent basis. We should not let ourselves be derailed by the decibel level while watching a TV debate. And so far as the role of television news media is concerned, the lines by the English writer Evelyn Beatrice Hall fits appropriately — I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.