Thursday, February 27, 2014

Testing times continue as the media grapples with some tough questions

Freedom and Accountability. Can the two coexist harmoniously? The Indian Constitution grants every citizen the Freedom of Expression, but what really is meant by freedom of the press? As a former high court judge says, the press enjoys the same freedom as every citizen. But is it as simple as that? The Justice Leveson enquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the press has resulted in a lot of debate on the subject over the past many months. However, there are no absolute answers and the picture is still fuzzy. There are some who want the establishment of an independent authority to regulate various aspects of the broadcast media as well.

What is clear is that (as some of the speakers at two conferences held in Chennai in the first week of February have suggested)  while the media (private television channels to a large extent) have succeeded in exposing corruption in high places, be it in political parties, the government, the legislature or the judiciary, it does not reserve enough space for more important social issues such as education, poverty and health. 

What is also clear is that there is a lack of solidarity in the press. This is no doubt fostered by a sense of over-competitiveness. You can see it all on private television channels where each one claims a report is an exclusive. You can even see it in newspapers – for example, an event where a publisher, editor or director  from a competing newspaper is up there on stage will either find less coverage or the person will be conveniently left out in the picture accompanying the article. I see it happening often in the city pages of the four English newspapers I ready daily. So, would you call that unbiased coverage?

At a time when the focus is more on television and the digital media, there are other issues that are not gaining enough attention: ownership of the media or publication house, education of journalists, recruitment and employment of journalists, and corruption within the media itself. We all thought there would be a thorough cleansing after the Radia Tapes episode exposed the goings-on, the cosy relationships some journalists had with politicians and others. But has it really happened? Am not so sure. So there is a lot that needs to be done within. In many ways, the media today finds itself in a state of stupor, the shock administered by the Internet, Facebook and Twitter also having a part to play.



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