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Journalism, ethics and society

Journalism, ethics and society

Author: M.V. Kamath
Publication: Organiser
Date: February 11, 2007
URL: http://www.organiser.org/dynamic/modules.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=170&page=14

We are living in another world, not the world of Mahatma Gandhi, who has been quoted as saying that "the sole aim of journalism should be service". Were he alive today he would be laughed out of court. Service is for the birds.

The Press Council of India celebrated National Press Day by holding a two-day seminar on November 16-17, 2006 on Journalism, Ethics and Society in the Age of Globalisation. Frankly, it was a waste of time. Few papers gave it adequate coverage even when no less a figure than Dr A.P.J. Kalam, President of India, proposed an eight-point action plan for the media.

In the first place, the Press Council has no teeth. Its establishment was more an expression of idealism than a lesson in reality. The reality is that when two editors of prominent dailies were summoned by the Council on certain charges, they plainly declined to oblige. If the government expects the media to behave, it has to empower the Press Council with the right to impose adequate punishment. Such is the situation today that the Council's rulings are not even adequately published by the media.

Among the conclusions arrived at by the seminar some are more than painful: They are sickening. Thus one conclusion says that "irresponsible advertising in electronic media has done away with socially responsible marketing in the environment of globalisation and instead racism, sex, violence and superstition are being encouraged."

Another conclusion is no less saddening. It says: "Entry of inexperienced and untrained young journalists in ever expanding world of media at low salaries has resulted in the deterioration of quality of journalism, thereby affecting its ethics." Yet another conclusion says that "in media scenario, by and large, entertainment has become sovereign and serious issues are trivialised." Nothing could be truer. The focus in some major papers is on page 3 where people of no importance and even less relevance are almost daily lionised and iconised to a sickening extent. The charge has also been made that one can buy space in newspapers for a right price. Increasingly, editors are being marginalised. Media is shifting gradually out of government hands into private hands and conglomeration is taking roots, resulting into citizen-centric to consumer-centric media.

And who is responsible for the steady deterioration of the media? Let the fact be faced: The responsibility lies totally on owners and managers of media companies. One of the conclusions says that "organisation of orientation workshops for owners and managers of the media companies for enlightening them on relevance of socially responsible marketing are the need of the hour." Does anyone really believe that owners and managers of media companies are educable? They are as well educated and informed of the facts of business as anyone else but their business is not in information and spread of education, but in taking care of the bottom line.

The Press Council relies exclusively on the strength of its so-called moral authority. In extreme cases it can censure the errant media, but does anyone care? Has anybody, in these past few decades? Dr Kalam wants "evolving a media code of conduct among themselves for ensuring that all reporting is analysed, evaluated and researched prior to publication" claiming that "this is essential for peace, prosperity and safety of the nation. He is asking for the impossible. How many newspapers can, hands, on heart, say, that news copy "is analysed, evaluated and researched" prior to publication? Copy gets straight into the computer in most cases and no one has anytime to "analyse, evaluate and research" what has been written. The watchword is 'sex', 'titillation' and gossip.

When a newspaper allots three pages to Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai's engagement we come to understand what newspaper values these days are. The focus is on sex. One weekly had a cover picture of a man and a woman virtually in the act of copulation and the cover-page headline said: "Adults Only". The Cover Story was on how "burgeoning Indian sex industry" is attracting 'homemakers to executives and students'.

"Just like in the West, in India too, homemakers, professionals and students are making plenty of money through secret meetings" the story said. A few weeks ago, a Mumbai tabloid, which claims to have a high circulation gave a full page lesson on how to make love that would have made Vatsyayana blush. Nothing is secret or holy any longer. The excuse is that the market demands it. Is this 'responsible journalism'?

The very concept of 'responsibility' has changed beyond recognition. So is the concept of 'ethics'. To expect present day media to focus on development journalism or science journalism is to ask for the unthinkable. Yet another of the conclusions arrived at by the seminar is that "while media should play a participatory role in national development, it should take a lead in highlighting the core competencies rather than only highlighting sensationalism". And it added: "The core competencies of the common man and their role in development should figure prominently in the media."

The Press Council of India is living in a different world. Its advice has few if not no takers. And by talking of values, it is making a laughing stock of itself. But then what is the answer to the current state of affairs? The seminar speaks of the need for "self-regulatory bodies either voluntary or statutory" to promote "responsible journalistic practices". It is like asking dons to organise a self-regulatory body to prevent crime.

The fact of the matter is that the media has no other vision than how to make money-and that, too, at any cost. The reader is no more a person looking for information and education. He is a consumer whose purse-strings call to be loosened. In such a situation the Press Council has no place.

Among the many conclusions is one which says that it is not sufficient only to criticise the publication of vulgar and consumerist advertisements but also to create awareness against them to empower the people. It is easier said than done. We are living in another world, not the world of Mahatma Gandhi, who has been quoted as saying that "the sole aim of journalism should be service". Were he alive today he would be laughed out of court. Service is for the birds.

According to the seminar, while the need for constant introspection by the media cannot be underestimated, the importance of an independent regulatory mechanism of media and for the media "is an accepted perception in all countries". Says who? But thank God, we still have a Press Council which has the courage to speak out. Even that is something to be proud about.

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