ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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TRPs or Truth?

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The recent observations of the Supreme Court towards the functioning of media in India seem to be an urgent need of redefining and restructuring the electronic media in accordance with the constitutional values, freedom of media, individual rights and right to privacy. “Sensation above sense” becomes one of the most important weapons in the hand of media owners to rig the viewer’s mind so as to get a high television rating point (TRP). Professionalism and ethics of media have always happened to be the missing aspects for the last few years as viewers themselves surrendered their preferences of news and stories based on sensation as politically motivated, ideologically inspired and iconic glamour news. Three types of models of journalism existing in India pose a greater risk to democracy.

Aggressive model of journalism: Aggressive journalism evolved over time as an offshoot of post-globalisation when electronic media began telecasting live news into 24-hour formats. Initially, the media remained engaged in covering the news round the clock so as to make viewers aware of all the happenings quickly. But, with the rising number of private channels after 2000, there has been a beginning of attracting the viewers towards their own channel by spreading news quickly, pitching the stories as sensations, media trials, etc, so as to secure a high TRP. Such type of practices in the media are glorified positively as aggressive journalism on acc­ount of free media enshrined in the Constitution as freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 (1)(a) that deals with protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc. Although, at the same time, freedom of media is restricted under Article 19(2) if there arise issues related to the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. A few of such cases, namely the Jessica Lal case, 2010, the Priyadarshini Mattoo case, 2006, the Bijal Joshi rape case, 2005, the Aarushi Talwar’s murder case, 2013, and very recently, the media trial of Rhea Chakraborty, were dealt with by the media by declaring the accused guilty even before the actual trial had begun. Though, the Supreme Court in Sahara v SEBI (2012) strongly observed that such trials by the media are likely to affect the reputation of the judiciary and judicial proceedings adversely.

Journalism as ideologically inspired: Another effort towards securing a high TRP by the media happens to be the rigging of the viewers’ minds that are associated with any ideology as well as political party. Hence, coverage of news is selectively sensitised and dramatised in accordance with the political and ideological agenda so as to reach a large number of viewers. With more than 75,000 newspapers and well over a 1,000 satellite channels in several languages competing with each other for their existence and survival, political allegiance becomes an edge for media as well as an easy way of getting a high TRP from politically and ideologically inspired viewers. The 10-year period of 2009–19 has seen an explosion in the TRP game as leading media houses in India have been covering the issues according to strict ideological allegiance and steadfast commitment to political parties.

Journalism as a personality of news anchors: The third category of journalism existing in India derives its TRP from the individual personalities of the news anchors as the present electronic media has evolved into a news entertaining industry where the TRP war is fought among the news anchors. Every news channel is dominated by a particular news anchor who is well versed with the viewers’ choices of news and stories. Panel discussions, debate, prime hour news programmes, interviews, etc, attract a huge TRP under the lead news anchor. Hence, anchors across Indian media news channels engage in conflict, fear and tussle in order to secure a high TRP as viewers get entertained by the debates than getting educated. Honesty, grit, and perseverance of the news anchors have been doubtful in the last decade as the quality of journalism emanating from news debates has been hitting new lows for a few years due to the prevalence of paid news. Television debates are being organised as propaganda without professional ethics of journalism.

India is not a surveillance state and there must not be any kind of illegal and unconstitutional check and balance on the freedom of the media provided that the media stick to the core principles of truth, accuracy, transparency, independence, fairness and impartiality. At the same time, there must be a professional strengthening of institutional and regulatory frameworks, namely the Press Council of India, News Broadcasters Association, Press Information Bureau, etc, so as to bring the Indian news media at the forefront of world ranking. Therefore, it is high time for the Indian media to prioritise truth and professionalism over TRP while covering issues.

Ahmed Raza

Hyderabad

 

Updated On : 17th Oct, 2020

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