Stand up and be counted against paid news!

21 Nov,2011

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The best TV news programme I watched all weekend was the BBC’s Panorama on the August riots which hit England, with particular emphasis on the city of Manchester. As you might remember, the riots started in London over what appeared to be a clash between the police and residents of a locality over the shooting of a black man. However, it soon became clear that race had little to do with the rage of the citizenry as anger spread from city to city and then manifested itself in arson, looting and attacks on the police.

Panorama concentrated on Manchester, how the police – who had spent officers to London as the capital was struggling – watched and waited. How many had little idea why the riots hit Manchester and how quickly they spread. How those who worked in the poorer areas – like Salford – were not surprised at the extent of the anger against the establishment.

The programme spoke to the police, to some rioters and tracked the process of how video footage helped in making arrests. The home minister was also interviewed.

However, there were no “general” experts who put forward any psycho-babble theories and nor did the reporter pontificate. Instead, here was an old-fashioned report, minus glitz and packaging. It made, perhaps obviously, for compelling viewing.

I’ve heard endless theories, as have we all, about how TV news in India is in its nascent stages, how TV is all about rating points and can never look further and how sensationalism is the only way competition can thrive. But I have never yet heard or seen any competent research which proves that Indian TV news viewers are all uniformly dumb. In which case, surely once in a while, TV can allow some good journalism to sneak through?

 

 

MxM partnered a film viewing and a seminar on paid news organised by Moneylife Foundation last Friday – paid news. Umesh Agarwal’s documentary Brokering News was a hard-hitting look at the scourge of our times – paid news. The film looked at the trend of media houses approaching politicians and political parties to sell them editorial space for positive coverage. The reader or viewer of course is not informed that the coverage has been paid for. This has become an across-the-spectrum practice during elections for four or five years.

It has long been known that smaller newspapers particularly in the regional languages use their reporters to get advertisements as well as get stories. Sometimes, the information gathered is used to blackmail politicians and businesspeople to increase the newspaper’s revenue. Brokering News tells the story of Rakesh Sharma who decided he could not be used like this any more his employer – Dainik Jagran – and is now fighting a lone battle against the newspaper. Sharma pointed out that other newspapers – he named Dainik Bhaskar and Hindustan among others – were also involved.

The film looked at corruption in the sports and entertainment sectors of journalism and ended with the Niira Radia tapes and its impact on the media. It was interesting to see Rajdeep Sardesai of CNNIBN, who was interview in the film, damning the practice of cosying up to PR people or subverting the cause of journalism and then copping out when it came to actually taking on the people exposed by the tapes. The biggest fish caught in the net were of course Barkha Dutt, Vir Sanghvi and Prabhu Chawla.

The film should be seen by every journalist. There was a bigger caveat I think to the media, which can sometimes become too complacent. The film played to a packed audience, with standing room only in a hall which seated about 300. For a documentary, that is remarkable. The media ought to take heed that the general public is not completely oblivious to its shortcomings. The warning signals are quite visible.

I think those of us who are not caught up in the seamy side need to come out and speak out, with more strength. The panellists – Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Ayaz Memon, Bhawana Somaiya, Umesh Agarwal – and moderator Sucheta Dalal examined and slammed paid news and acknowledged the degradation in the media. Now we need more.

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2 responses to “Stand up and be counted against paid news!”

  1. Aman says:

    Not able to type times of india Opinion edit-page QA link to web site somehow. How can I send it to you.

  2. Aman says:

    I hope you will also look into some paid news inserted for business purposes, like for example under times ofindia Opinion edit-page QA

    It looks like edit page, QA but it is an advertisement.

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