Tuesday, April 26, 2011

78% of front page stories in TOI either on corruption; bash-the-govt; sensationalizing matters or doling out plain bad news.....

I have been cribbing about how much negativity is being spread by the media in India in the last 6 months. Again, last night when I saw Arnab lend credibility to a vastly disgraced Julian Assange and today when I read the headlines in TOI, I got the same impression. I decided to check out if my views were biased or if my feelings were correct. I decided to check the front pages (top half....above the fold.....the main stories) of TOI Bombay for the last 10 days (just as a sample......it could be any paper really). I was aghast. 78% of the stories had the following flavor: a) bash the government directly or indirectly b) sensationalised headlines and c) Investigative journalism to highlight some terrible hidden story or d) just plain bad news. Only 22% stories were the type that made me feel good and positive. At 6 am in the morning, I am sorry, but I want some peace of mind and some good stories to begin my day. Is it then any surprise at all that newspaper readership is falling or is, at best, stagnant (the younger age groups have totally abandoned the papers!)? In a previous post, I have already brought out how English news channel TRPs have fallen in the last six months since they started a negativity campaign. Not only is media upsetting India’s growth trajectory, it is also digging its own grave.....

Here are the top stories of the last 10 days:

April 27th (today):
·        School that took off without planes gave DGCA no 2’s daughter license (Investigative)
·        PM was warned of Raja’s plan to ignore 2G rules (Bash-the-govt)
April 26th
·        Kanimozhi/Raja/DMK TV chief got Rs 200 crores bribe from DB: CBI (Corruption)
·        Kalmadi arrested; suspended by Congress (Corruption)
April 25th
·        From Puttaparthy to Eternity – Rs 1 lac crore question. Who’ll lead the empire (Bad news; attempt to sensationalize)
April 24th
·        Were rules bent for DGCA no 2’s pilot’s daughter? (Investigative)
·        PM opens secret talks with Kayani; laid pitch for Mohali (Good)
·        Press pause button on new nuclear plants – says Jairam (Bad news)
April 23rd
·        Modi wanted Muslims to be taught a lesson – Guj cop’s affidavit in SC (Bad news)
·        ICICI Manager tells CBI about ADAG Swan links (Corruption)
·        Spectrograph shows Bhushan CD was spliced using old Amar tape (big story) (Corruption)
April 22nd
·        Stung by Digvijay, Santosh Hegde wants to quit Lokpal Bill panel (Corruption)
·        Bhushan CD not doctored, says govt lab (small story) (Corruption)
·        Black money – are all govt agencies sleeping (Corruption)
·        Rane: Sena got Rs 500 crore to stall Jaitapur plant (Sensationalized)
·        Lankan Board gives in to BCCI pressure (Good)
April 21st
·        Unitech’s Chandra, DB’s Goenka arrested. 3 ADAG top execs also sent to jail as court denies bail (Corruption)
·        I don’t support politics of smear, Sonia tells Anna (Good)
·        Baba’s health deteriorates, forces rushed to Puttaparthi (Bad news)
April 20th
·        Rains to be normal this year: Met (Good)
·        America stunned by credit downgrade (?)
·        Activists on Sonia-led NAC back Bhushan (Corruption)
·        India born US doc gets Pulitzer for cancer tome (Good)
·        Nuclear bandh cripples Jaitapur (Bad news)
April 19th
·        Anna cries foul; asks Sonia to stop “smear campaign” by Cong leaders (Corruption)
·        Pantry car hero helps save 150 on Rajdhani (Good)
·        Police firing kills 1 in Jaitapur (Bad news)

Just want to make the following points:
1)      My complaint is not that TOI is “fabricating” such stories. My complaint is that they are intentionally choosing such stories for the front page.
2)      My romaticized notion of media is that it should lead the country and society towards more progressive thinking and a belief in one’s future.....keeping the govt alert is good, but putting out so much negativity? How can this be good for the society or the country? Take the example of nuclear power. It is my view that the TOI (or any other newspaper) should have taken a stand to support nuclear power.....even a simple analysis will show that India needs to exploit ALL types of power generation methods. No method is perfect. India is not in a high-threat seismic zone like Japan is. But no, TOI has chosen to report on the violence instead; even project the government as being against its own people.
3)      There is bias even in the sizes given to stories. A story that the Bhushan CD was not doctored was small in size; the one that claimed that the CD was spliced was big in size.
4)      Never has TOI put out the alternate view on Anna Hazare.....his methods; the problems in his Jan Lokpal Bill, the character of his team mates.....is this not a case of pandering to public opinion; rather than treating a subject on merit? Shouldn’t TOI bring out all aspects for a healthy debate?

I am not suggesting that the TOI (or other newspapers) be more responsible in the interest of nation building. It should be so in its own interest. If media were to maintain a balanced position, it would find that its readership and viewership would improve. A bulk of the urban Indians feel positive and happy today....they are seeing economic progress they have never seen before. People are buying more cars; eating and drinking and partying more; flying rather than taking the train; going on overseas vacations; and generally feeling good about their life and future. A paper which projects the opposite view all the time is un-aligned with the mood of its readers.

The real truth is that media in India is highly irresponsible. It’s projecting an image of India that isn’t true. A foreigner who comes to India would think that it was a banana republic. Indians who read the papers have started feeling miserable about their country. The government has become wary of taking decisions. The only ones who are gaining.....and whose agenda the media is pushing without realizing.....is the political opposition. Media should know that taking on an anti-establishment position rarely gets in advertising dollars. India TV, Tehelka, Indian Express (of the past).....are examples of anti-establishment titles.....they never got the monies though they had high readership/viewership!

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