Aam Admi Party’s most khas admi Arvind Kejriwal’s diatribe against media few days back brings back the neutrality of media in sharp focus once again. The last time it happened was when Radia tapes were leaked and hell cut loose only to be forgotten and forgiven in a few months. Stung by the open attack, most of the TV channels and newspapers picked up cudgels for media neutrality against Kejriwal. In fact the channels AAP subsequently named, (India TV, Timesnow,..) unleashed an all-out war against Kejriwal and AAP and came up with hour-long defences to shield themselves. In Timesnow’s case it was not defence but complete offence as Arnab Goswami’s (who else 😊) as is his wont ripped apart one hapless AAP chap that night in Newshour (where else 😊). The key question is – “Is Neutral Media an oxymoron???” Before answering that question few associated ones pop up.
- Is media neutral today?
- Was media ever neutral??
- Can media be neutral at all???
Is media neutral today? – Certainly not. How can it be? In the age of cut throat competition and proliferating options – it is struggle for existence and survival of the smartest. Being smart include being owned by corporates and barons who have deep pockets, being flexible in editorial content, packaging “News” with “Views” and taking a slant politically to reap the rewards. So it is not surprising that many of the media groups are owned by politicians or corporate bodies. They have not invested certainly for charity. If a channel or publication is owned partly or in full by a politician, can we expect neutral reporting on the wrong doings of his/her party? In the same lines if the channel is funded or owned by a corporate group with varied interests, can we expect the channel to report any scandal happening in that group?
Was media ever neutral? I don’t think so. Today when we say media, we mostly refer to the 24*7 TV news channels. But much before histrionics and hysteria took over our drawing rooms every evening, mainstream media was mainly newspapers. Even in the glorious print era of The Hindu, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Malayala Manorama, The Indian Express,.. it was a known fact that the owners of most of these papers belonged to political parties and used their paper legitimately to pedal their parties’ cause. So, while you had news reports and events there were the editorial and Op-ed columns to proliferate opinions with a particular slant. This tradition if I may say so continues till today whereby newspapers give a particular angle as per their compulsions. This is more than evident in the Radia tapes.
Can media be neutral at all? I doubt. For reasons espoused earlier like rampant competition and lesser value system these days it is and will be increasingly difficult for a media house to stay neutral and survive. Many proclaim to be but it is difficult to fathom how they can be.
While it is a fact that media plays a major role in forming and influencing public opinion, it is for the same reason that it is manipulated. It is extremely difficult to pick up one anchor/journalist today who can be said with confidence that he/she is neutral and his/her opinion can be respected. So the only option as readers and viewers is to understand and realize that Neutrality and Media cannot go together and take what we read/see with a fistful of salt.
- As responsible citizens it may not be very wise if we take decision on who to vote based on what is mentioned in the media. For example the same Bihar which till a year ago was the emerging state with all round development is back to being a “BIMAR” state (after Nitish broke off JDU’s ties with BJP). Similarly the same press which hailed Akhilesh Yadav as “THE” Yuva Neta when he won, is trashing him to the dumps. To me there was nothing spectacular about him then and nothing so worse now.
- The concept of WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) may be popular in the context of “Text Editors”. But in the context of “Gen Next News Editors” it seems to be an obsolete idea. We saw that in the leaked Kejriwal-Punya Prasun Bajpai video (watch here) where even Kejriwal’s shenanigans were exposed.
- As we also saw, there exists in India an “Opinion poll marketplace” – where one can order data and opinion poll results in the way we want and get it delivered at your place and someone will say OLX pe bech de 😁
- As I mentioned in my earlier post (read here) for the same reasons of survival, a marketing plug is masqueraded as news item and slipped in. So at our own peril we can decide on buying that product believing what is written in that news item. Same is true for political stories.
Bordering cynicism, let me say this and close. In our great theatre of democracy our media provides 24*7 (mostly free) entertainment. So lets’ enjoy as the Arnabs and Rajdeeps battle it out with the Kejriwals, Lekhis and Tiwaris and “experts”. But form our opinions and cast our vote as per conscience and not based on what we read or see. Neutral umpires in Cricket became a reality long time back. But Neutral umpires in Media is still imaginary.
Cartoon of Satish Acharya from http://cartoonistsatish.blogspot.in