In a multi-religious/linguistic milieu like India, media must perform its role keeping in mind its social obligations. Comment.
There is no denying that media (both print and electronic) is the ears and eyes of the masses. Being both the message and the messenger, it has to perform its robust role in a multi-religious-cum- multi-linguistic polity like ours with utmost care and caution. Though unintended, the media tends to suffer from emotions like patriotic fever. When ethical, religious and sectarian biases are allowed to prevail, truth often becomes a casualty.
In the opinion of some veterans it is time for the media to step into the shoes of the masses and look at the news from their perspective. A journalist has to be aware of the sentiments prevailing in society without losing sight of the all encompassing fact that media has social obligations as well. Much water has flowed since Independence and those working in the media have to do a balancing act. For some, the field of media is synonymous with glamour which is anything but true. The line between the media and masses is blurring, with masses taking on the role of the media to report events. In a free and transparent democracy the media cannot and should not be treated as a mere commodity to dish out adulterated news. If the ever vigilant media keeps the government of the day on its toes, it too has to do a tight-rope walking in certain very critical and sensitive situations.
The marathon coverage given to the Mumbai attacks (26/11) made everyone realise that they were living in a dangerous media world. The live coverage also brought forth the pros and cons of breaking news in a highly charged situation. For some analytical minds it also proved how the ethical standards could be thrown out of the frame of the idiot box. For days TV channels forgot that they were not only transmitting signals to the domestic audience but also giving sensitive and strategic information to the cross-border patrons of terrorists who were controlling them through satellite phones. All said and done, it is apt to say that a mad race for TRP can erode the ethical backbone of media. Sir Robin, veteran BBC broadcaster, once rightly remarked that “television is a tabloid medium, at its best when there is war, violence and disaster”. A code of conduct is badly needed to deal with a crisis situation like Mumbai attacks or else ‘breaking news’ would become “barking news”.