Pseudo-Secularism

Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Irresponsible reporting and Press Council

Let it be said clearly: the time has come for the Press Council to get more powers to curb an irresponsible media. And it is heartening to hear Justice (Retd) GN Ray, Chairman of the Council, saying that deliberations are going on at a higher level “to provide more teeth to the Council” and that, it is in turn “giving thought to making tougher provisions” even when he apologetically admitted that “we are very clear that we do not want to become a punishing body”. The question may be asked: “If the Council is not a punishing body, what is its relevance?” Justice Ray was talking to media persons in a “Meet the Press” programme organised by the Nagpur Union of Working Journalists, in association with the Press Club of Amravati, as reported by The Hitavada. Justice Ray in his remarks expressed concern over the “trivialistaion” of issues by print media and mostly by the electronic media and the reporting by the media in “crisis situations”. He said that the Council was thinking whether “to stop advertisements released to a newspaper censured by Press Council, at least for a few months”. According to Justice Ray, “Electronic media is unregulated and needs to be guided properly” and that the media currently is “at the crossroads” and that “a lot many complicated changes are taking place” that need to the addressed”—and no wise words were said. Justice Ray also pointed out that media houses are today dictated by profit motives.

Expressing displeasure over the failure of majority of the media in addressing serious issues, he said “tainted corporate communications” is the biggest problem of the day. Asked about “semi-naked” photographs being published by some newspapers, Justice Ray said that nudism in media was an aberration. He said: “The people should raise their voice against it.” And he added: “In fact, in a few cases pertaining to a major media group, Press Council has observed that newspapers should not disturb the set of accepted values in the country which is exactly what the English media seems determined to do. It is significant that hardly any major national newspaper published Justice Ray’s comments which are most relevant today. How much of nudity is permissible in a newspaper? What are “accepted set of values”? Who decides what these “accepted set of values” are? The media? The Press Council? The Sri Ram Sena? On May 9, 2008, Hindustan Times published on page 1 in its HT City section, a prominent picture of a tall Indian girl in a bikini, under the caption: “Daring to bare”. Very clever. It was illustrating a story about the increasing sale of bikinis in Indian cities. Delhi topped the bikini sales with Mumbai and Bangalore coming second and third, in percentage rise. Was that picture in good taste? Did that picture reflect Indian culture? On the issue of the Mangalore pub incident, one columnist in The Times of India wanted to know what Indian culture is. Does Konark sculpture represents Indian culture? Is there such a thing as rural culture versus urban culture? The Mangalore pub incident has been over-publicised to the point that, according to the The New Indian Express (January 29), Mangalore City’s “mage as a education hub now lies in tatters”.

The electronic media specially ran pictures of the assault on female pub staff over and over again frightening parents of students to the point that, according to the Express they started calling College Principals and Student Counselling heads in desperation. One student welfare Counsellor—an associate professor—was deluged by phone calls. He is quoted as saying: “My cell phone has not stopped ringing from the day the incident happened.” No one has called the media to order, considering the damage done to the educational institutions in Mangalore and surrounding areas, which have students from over fifty countries.

What is shocking to note is that some of the electronic media which have been overplaying the pub event have hardly taken cognizance of the blatant vandalism indulged in by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). According to The Free Press Journal (January 26), Six MNS workers were arrested for creating fracas at the Mumbai University, damaging property. The paper said: “The attack on Mumbai University’s Registrar’s office and disruption of a North Indian cultural programme at a school in Nasik a day before have brought to the fore nefarious activities of MNS”. No action has been taken against the leader of the MNS which has been spewing venom against north Indians damaging the very concept of One India One People. The electronic media and the English print media may have their own reasons to play up the Mangalore incident out of all proportions, but they have, in the process, done a lot of harm to the educational system of the city, which calls for the strongest condemnations. The playing-up of the event may have something to do with politics and electioneering, considering that elections to Parliament are due in a few weeks’ time.

Obviously the politically-motivated media wishes to do the utmost damage to the BJP government in Karnataka and to the BJP in general. First, the media has been steadily undermining “the set of accepted values”—and one has only to witness some of the programmes broadcast by certain TV channels. When this infuriates a large section of people, the print media pounces on that section with venom. That only worsens the situation. Meanwhile, personal attacks on the Chief Minister of Karnataka are mounting, which do no credit either to the media or to journalism. All may be fair in love, war and electioneering, but there are certain lines that are not to be crossed. One-sided reporting, refusing to give the media-condemned, a fair hearing is becoming standard practice that comes close to gutter journalism.

It is not for the media to be both judge and jury. The media’s job is to report as objectively as possible and provide a complete picture, not a one-sided one to suit the channels predilections. In this connection, attention needs to be drawn to a statement which is part of the Press Council’s General Review for the year 2007-2008. It says: “The Council has been continuously facing a question as to why it was not taking steps to restrain the electronic media from its aberrations… Many felt that the competition posed by the electronic media was one of the main reasons for growing trivilisation in the print media…” Freedom of the Press does not mean freedom to scandalise people and organisations or project and entire state in a bad light. What is the Press Council afraid of? When freedom is abused are we to sit back and let things be?

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