VISUAL MEDIA MUST CHANGE

The Supreme Court has finally wielded the stick and asked the electronic media to behave. The context was the airing of communally sensitive material on a television channel, which said Muslims are trying to infiltrate the civil services through secret operations. The main interest of the electronic media, it noted, was for increasing the TRP ratings and thereby grab more advertisements. In the process, truth cannot be a casualty;  the court has stressed. Sensationalism is the bane of the electronic media, and it often borders on irresponsibility. Freedom of the media is a sacred trust and a free-for-all media riding on this trust is not acceptable either.

The court has also directed the government that the ownership structures of the electronic media required a relook. It says the entire shareholding pattern of visual media should be made public; revenue models be reviewed and checks done whether the government is favouring one or another channel with more advertisements etc.

Checks and balances are a must for all, including the government, public institutions and private entities. At the same time, it is a debatable point as to how far a government can go in curtailing the editorial freedom of media establishments. General guidelines like avoiding release of matter or material that will hurt communal equilibrium, national integrity etc., are already in place, and this is acceptable to all. But, often these lines too are transgressed in the frenzy to gain a special edge. Freedom, as the court noted, is not absolute.

Rightly, the apex court has taken note of the excessive roles being played by anchors of news programmes, and pointed to the large extent of time taken by them to project themselves at the cost of muting the panelists on the show.  As of now, anything is passé.

The electronic media in India has failed to match international standards when it comes to quality vis-à-vis airing news and related programmes. The focus is not on grabbing visuals to reach the viewers, but to get together a team of ‘favourites’ and hold forth on subjects, to finally project one side of the issue in a more forceful manner. It is timely that the apex court has come forward to bell the cat.

This is time for the government to take matters forward and set things right, rather than sleeping over the matters that the court has referred to. It remains to be seen how much interest the government would take, though, as the present situation suits the powers-that-be.

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