Monday, December 14, 2009

Transparency in Media coverage - IE Editorial


Indian media needs remedial action, and needs it now. As evidence had poured in about how election reporting is widely up for sale (methodically exposed by The Hindu) and how articles and programming all too often do not carry disclosures on sponsorship (as detailed in two reports in The Sunday Express), the media have been forced to look harder at our own linty navel. It is perhaps no surprise that there exists a sophisticated persuasion industry, spanning politics, business, sport and entertainment, which aims to use the news media as brand battleground — to shine a politician’s image right before an election, sell a razor or provide publicity for a movie — and do it sneakily, pretending to be a straight piece of news.
There is an entire range of such insidious practices, from private treaties to advertisements in return for buying up newspapers and inflating circulation, besides more complex kinds of implication — impacting both the reportorial and editorial fronts. For too long, much of the mainstream media in India has gotten away with prissy exhortations to transparency, responsibility and ethics even as their own marketing departments are busy shilling. TV networks which never tire of meta commentary on the lines of the New Yorker cartoon — “Welcome to All About the Media, where members of the media discuss the role of the media in media coverage of the media” — have an even harder time living with themselves, as their sanctimony clashes with brand partnerships that make it hard to separate truth and marketing lies. It is public faith in the need for a free media that guarantees the freedom of the press and checks against interference by government. It is this faith — and therefore this freedom — which is at stake. To be fair, many newspapers and TV networks are now instituting a verifiable set of norms, but they need to be held to their word.
Sections of the media that are complicit in this selling might feel clever about the way it swells their coffers, but are oblivious to the way it imperils their very foundations — and devalues the very space they put on sale. At a time when media outlets are staving off the avalanche of amateur content and trying to convince the world how desperately it needs them — that journalism is a vital public trust, an essential for a full-throated democracy — this is exactly the kind of practice that punctures the grand talk. The Indian media is so far insulated from the larger industry crisis, but one would think that in the interim, they would try and shore up a sense of professional credibility. It’s all we have.

1 comment:

Nothing Spectacular said...

The Times of India (and to some extent the Economic Times) is basically the father of this trend, and that is why I stopped reading both more than 3-4 years ago. They are the 'opium of the masses' that Karl Marx wanted and which are making us all hollow and superficial. Don't know much about HT, but the Mint is (so far) free of this poisonous influence.