Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The mainstream media’s malaise

Rhetoric continues to be the dominant theme in the mainstream media in India. Therefore I was not very surprised to read this – an eloquent diatribe on the nuke deal and the collateral damage it has caused-by Sagarika Ghose, who on prime-time TV, often cannot distinguish between a debate and a shouting match. Let’s take a closer look at a few ‘priceless’ excerpts from this ‘master’piece.

According to a shocking recent report, 836 million Indians live on a per capita income of less than Rs 20 per day”

Getting your facts right is the first step in building credibility. So to put the above stat in perspective- more than 80% of India earns less than half a dollar/day! Outrageous, isn’t it? Ok, don’t take my word for it. Look at this. About 34.7% of the population in Indian earns less than a dollar/day. It could be a typo- I grant you, but a typo that makes you look in a very poor light.

“The in-house elitist chatter about the Hyde Act, 123 Agreement at a time of floods, collapse of urban infrastructure, bomb blasts and a horrifying poverty report reveals a grim truth: that India's powerful are closet-monarchists whose contempt and scorn for the people is so deep seated that they prefer to live in fortresses from where the public can barely be seen”


I didn’t know that a job in journalism comes with perk that is normally reserved for the artistically inclined- a poetic license!

“The nuke deal controversy shows a chilling distance between politicians and people”

“But has any politician or leader bothered to explain what the deal means or does not mean to the people?”

Nope, you were wrong there. There is no distance…most of the politicians are equally ignorant. You (CNN-IBN) could have probably done the explaining, had you devoted a little less space/time to the adventures of Sanjay Dutt and Salman Bhai. Also it’s a bit hard to explain a complicated deal (that has remained incomprehensible to a majority of the august members of the Parliament) to the ‘aam aadmi’, considering that there are only 48.7 million graduates in India (under 5% of the population). I have a radical solution- make only simple policies, such as- if you are an OBC, you can be in the bottom percentile in CAT and still go to IIMA. Easy to understand and administer!

“21st century media like all technology is an amoral being; its avalanche of images is anarchic. Floods, parties, police brutality, fashion, riots, food, starvation, murder, justice, cocktails, nuclear debates, media provides the democratic noise of everything Indian, the media caters to all tastes. The media plays its role, politicians must play theirs”

Amoral, really!

After the Hyderabad bomb blasts, a prominent media channel reporter asked a young boy, “You have lost your father, how do you feel?”. Another reporter posed provocative questions to a youth who lost his sister on the eve of Raksha Bandhan; the youth started frothing with rage and vowed vendetta in a dramatic manner. Grief is a private affair, not a public spectacle for a reality-TV addicted voyeuristic audience. Journalistic ethics-anyone?

There are, however, very good reasons albeit commercial ones, that explain the way the media houses function. It’s time people understood the economic motivations and pull the media off the moral high horse. Valuation in media centers around a nebulous concept called ‘eyeballs’. Now ‘eyeballs’ is synonymous with ‘reach’ and is measured by INTAM (Indian Television Audience Measurement). 'People meters' are installed in sample homes and these electronic gadgets continuously record data about the channels watched by the family members and the agency prepares a national data on the basis of its sample homes readings. And it’s a no-brainer that channel revenues are inextricably linked to TRPs.

I have noticed, for instance, in a couple of households- on the day of Hyderabad blasts- the women folk seemed anxious to avoid looking at some of the gory scenes and catch with up their daily quota of soaps. Thankfully, there was no cricket match on that day. My larger point is this- India’s 200 million strong middle class, that forms the bulk of the viewer-ship, is largely apathetic to political reform and social realities. Read this, a very insightful peep into this issue. So Rajdeep Sardesai’s problem is this- he wants you to throw away the remote when you are watching CNN-IBN and reach for it when you are not- a scenario more likely if there is a ‘revealing’ interview with Ms Sherawat than a ‘relevant’ interview! Also the need to put together new stories at a short notice means less time for research and reflection and hence a generous use of sound-bytes, rhetoric & decibel levels. Very much like the CP done by ill-prepared students during our b-school days!

So till there is an appreciable rise in the political awareness levels that would warrant more ‘relevant’ coverage, I will probably have to stick to watching Karan Thapar and reading blogs.

15 Comments:

Blogger mimo said...

Hello Ravi,
I like your blog

9:03 AM  
Blogger Ravi Ivaturi said...

Thanks Mimo, no comments on the posts?

11:10 AM  
Blogger Ford Prefect said...

Hey Ravi ... Very nicely articulated ... I guess the bastardization of Media is a global phenomenon ... Its just that its now catching up in India. But then this is one of the side effects of the free market economy .. What sells flies ... I dont remember Doordarshan ever showing gory images of Khalistani or Kashmiri militants killed in encounters like the channels now a days do ...

12:42 PM  
Blogger Ravi Ivaturi said...

Thanks Ford.
I dont have a problem with 'Market' determining what's 'news' (not after doing an MBA). But I am slightly skeptical of the media's ability to really understand it's consumers. And I definitely dont what media taking the moral high ground- it's business, pure & simple.
BTW, I am a big fan of your blog- you have a fab sense of humor :-)

12:49 PM  
Blogger Ashok said...

Like movies, where a good man is mostly unglamorous, and the villain holds more attention by his antics and behaviour, the media too focuses on negative. A friend of mind said that he reads the sports page first and the first page as last, since the sports talks about humanity's successes and the first page talks about humanity's failures. The media is negatively skewed where it gives unwarranted publicity to negative behaviour and devotes very less to positive achievements. There is hardly any story on how a village became self sufficient, seva done by conscious citizens, hardworking people come up. It keeps talking on beaten and cliched issues like 20 pilgrims die on way to Amarnath etc, good people keep suffering, hardwork never pays and only shortcuts pay etc. In an effort to keep the program interesting, it often gives a cynical picture of the world. It reduces the one precious human quality of Hope. Add to this the Shilpa Shettys who construct a career out of sensationalism. Positive journalism still rests with few Goenkas. Talk shows steer the discussion towards a preconceived conclusion, rather than just compere and allow views to be expressed. A long way to go for Indian journalism.

12:23 AM  
Blogger aandthirtyeights said...

I hate doing this little nitpicking of sorts, but I seriously don't consider wikipedia an authoritative resource for statistics. Remember that information on wiki, as useful and informative as it is, is updated by me and you.

We all know that 56.6% of statistics are made up on the spot, and it is possible that around 1% of those are put up on wiki also.

Apart from that, I thought the post was very well said!

1:17 PM  
Blogger Ravi Ivaturi said...

@ aandthirtyeights

Thanks. Well, what makes Wiki reliable is that the average correction time for erroneous entries is very low -just like prices in an efficient market that reach their equilibrium pretty quickly. Wiki is based on the concept of ‘Wisdom of crowds’- you might want to check it out!

2:18 PM  
Blogger aandthirtyeights said...

On many occasions, I have found not-so-accurate information on Wiki. Even more often, I have found one-sided, or misleading information. For instance, the Wiki page does not clearly mention that the figures have been adjusted in the UNDP report that they have been taken from to provide for purchasing power parity. While Wiki's information, therefore, might paint a more accurate picture, the statistic cited by Sagarika Ghosh could still be correct.

I am not defending Sagariks Ghosh's comments or her opinions, but I just think that she does have some source from where she gets that statistic - and me or you are not competent to simply decide that her statistic is wrong as compared to Wiki's.

And again, sorry for this nitpicking - really doesn't show my agreement with the contents of the post.

4:04 PM  
Blogger Ravi Ivaturi said...

@ aandthirtyheights

Are you seriously suggesting that more than 83% of India lives on less than half a dollar? Less than a dollar a day is the official definition of poverty line; so does this statistic look believable in the first place? In any case, the divergence cannot be this wide! And yes, I’d checked other sources (offline) such as Millennium Development Goal report etc…

10:20 AM  
Blogger aandthirtyeights said...

correct me if i'm wrong, but i think less than a dollar a day, adjusted for purchasing power parity is the definition of below poverty line. And that does make quite a difference...

1:29 AM  
Blogger Ravi Ivaturi said...

You are probably right... but she should have quoted her source to avoid any confusion

2:29 AM  
Blogger The Walker said...

Exactly my thoughts Ravi. In fact, this was the exact sentiment that inspired me to blog. (http://walkersez.blogspot.com/2007/09/is-being-pro-india-anti-national.html) And I have a legitimate right to be the citizen of what could the most prosperous country in the world!

I think that the (mainstream) media has to play a more active role in getting ground realities to the people. Afterall, there's only so much that we bloggers can do :(

And I really liked your perspective on it. I've bookmarked your page :)

11:43 AM  
Blogger Ravi Ivaturi said...

@ The Walker

Thank you.

1:04 PM  
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3:24 PM  
Blogger Saurbh said...

Thats a pertinent post. Well-written.

10:20 PM  

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