By B. Raman
In an interview to Karan Thapar, TV journalist, former Chief Justice Markandey Katju, who presently heads the Press Council, has repeated his strong criticism of our media in general and of the TV media in particular. The text of the interview is available at http://ibnlive.in.com/videos/197593/media-deliberately-dividing-people-pci-chief.html .
Some of his criticism seems to have been over-stated. The TV media has also to make both ends meet. Our TV channels are not charitable or philanthropic or non-profit organisations. Unless they make profit, they can’t provide professional services. Unless they have a steadily rising community of viewers, they can’t make profit. How to attract viewer interest is an important question that has to influence their policy-making. If growing sections of viewers prefer non-serious coverage such as of events in the film world, for example, can they ignore their preferences? They can’t.
A compromise has to be made if they have to survive — between the professional and the non-professional, between the serious and the non-serious, between the profound and the frivolous. If our TV channels are dishing out to us a mix of all this as a result of the professional compromise which they have to constantly make in the interest of survival, we cannot make over-righteous criticism of their performance as Shri Katju seems to have done.
The focus has to be not on the seemingly frivolous part of their coverage — one doesn’t have to watch it if one doesn’t like it — but on the serious part of it. There has to be parameters to ensure that the serious part is governed by professional considerations without any non-professional agenda. An exercise to draw up a list of such parameters has not received the attention it deserves so far even though there has been a mushrooming of our private TV news channels since the first Gulf war of 1991.
In drawing up such parameters one has to go into questions such as: Are different view-points given adequate coverage? Is there favouritism in the selection of panels? Do commercial considerations influence the composition of the panels and the airing of different points of view? Is there a discreet black-listing of inconvenient moulders of public opinion either by the owners of the channels or their anchors? Is there a mechanism by which the criticisms, protests and grievances of the viewers are given serious attention and a response is given to them?
Who will lay down such parameters in the interest of professional excellence and public good? The Press Council can’t do it now since it has no powers or responsibility in respect of the TV world. The owners of the TV channels have shown no interest in such an exercise. Since the beginning of this year, I have been strongly voicing a demand through the Twitter world for an ombudsman in our TV news channels similar to what “The Hindu” has.
“The Hindu’s” ombudsman is not a paragon of professional virtues, but the creation of it by the paper at least showed that it was aware of the need to pay attention to the views of the readers regarding how the paper was run. One does not find a similar awareness among the owners of our TV channels and their anchors.
The prima donna culture and mindset that have permeated into our community of news anchors have made them totally impervious to the need to pay attention to the views and complaints of the viewers. They couldn’t care less about your criticisms or honest opinions. When you criticise, the reply that comes is “use the remote”.
The world of our TV news channels is becoming a copy-cat version of our film world. It is this aspect that should be causing concern and needs the attention of the decreasing number of serious-minded professionals still in the TV world.
There is one other aspect to which I had drawn attention earlier after the successful hunger-strike of Anna Hazare. That is the failure of our Doordarshan and All-India Radio to evolve into a public broadcasting service of professional excellence that would provide a serious alternative to the kichdi dished out by our private channels. The stunted evolution of the DD and the AIR is due to the continuing political stranglehold on them. This has to be broken. Only public pressure can do it.