Social media, blogs and citizen journalists have taken over Indian journalism by storm. The news and controversies that unfolded within India in 2015, has left the nation divided with strong opinions. Not only is the public retorting in disappointment, but the media is continuing to fall apart in standards, distorting facts and presenting falsely sensationalized stories, to attract more than ever commercial attention. This is the age of a raging ‘media chaos’ in Indian journalism.
It all started on a revolutionary note, when the ‘Nirbhaya’ rape case of 2012, became a national movement, with both the media and the public acting as one united voice. Social platforms and media coverage brought the entire country together, fighting for justice and safety for women. This marked the rise of ‘New-Media’ in India. A media, that had the power to shake the government, challenge the lawmakers, and stood hand-in-hand with the people.
But since then, the industry has transformed yet again. Garima Sharma, former Editor at Times Group, The Times of India, said via a recent email, “Thanks to the penetration of technology, especially easy-to-use and shoot cellphones, journalism is no longer what it used to be. Technology is having far-reaching consequences on one of the noblest professions in the world and there are bound to be evident, sometimes not-so-pleasant changes.”
Agreeing to these changing media dynamics, Tanya Mahendru, a pro bono and freelance writer with India Today, also stated via email, “It is imperative for the Indian media to undergo a concerted catharsis as the world’s largest democracy can benefit superfluously from responsible journalism rather than the everyday primetime, futile, juicy, analytics & TRP-raising polemics. While extremely important world or national news goes unreported, a film star’s wedding would be religiously covered from the engagement to the honeymoon period”.
Looking critically at the downside, media in India has emerged to be so powerful at the moment, that even the biggest of news organizations are blatantly reporting the trashiest of headlines, and still prospering without consequences. The recent controversy around the ‘Indigo’ airline, is one such case in point, where most newspapers misguided the public with a sensational ‘feminist’ headline, receiving an overwhelming amount of controversial responses and consequently a viral readership.
Fact remains, that traditional news outlets are now not only reporting news, but are busy competing with new-age digital websites for a growing digital circulation. Prateek Shah, Founder of Digital Defynd, a web-based community of digital professionals to communicate and share their views, explained over an email conversation, “Even though the media has always been under scrutiny, the explosion of digital media has made matters worse. Now the contest is on every article, and the fight is about who wins how many viewers on which day. Thanks to the blind race between old and new media houses, everybody is participating in a click bait war online, where the only objective seems to be to write something nastier to get another viewer”.
For Prateek, the scarier part though is that the audience seems to be enjoying every bit of this. “You can maybe control the media sometime, but with an audience that thrives on sensationalism, wonder what will happen to good journalism,” he said.
A vital aspect of this rising chaos is citizen journalism, which is fueling the Indian media industry at the moment. New writers are emerging without a foundation of journalistic principles, and blogs are being used as platforms to express and bring about an uprising. Indian youth is idolizing to be the social activists of today and tomorrow, without a sense of their social and ethical responsibilities in reporting, which is evident from the numerous comments made on social media and other public platforms. Facebook and Twitter have given a false power to the common-man, who is now acting as the censor board of the media industry.
A recent case that thoroughly illustrates this scenario is the controversy around Indian superstar, Aamir Khan’s claims of rising intolerance in India, which was highly criticized by the public, within moments of being dramatically reported, on all social media platforms. In no time, the issue was so blown out of proportion specially via Twitter, that no longer it remained a national news, but became an enthralling international coverage.
Looking at the larger picture, all the country needs currently, is a story to tear apart. The entire population is taking sides, the for’s are strong in support, and the against’s are blowing back with an equally convincing argument.
Ayandrali Dutta, Lifestyle Journalist and blogger, believes that in today’s world, be in India or any other economy, everyone has an opinion about everything. And social media, which she calls ‘cheap thrill entertainment’ for the time being, is a highly used platform for everyone, to easily voice their views.
“Journalistic standards have indeed fallen drastically and everyone is in the rat race of a 24/7 concept, so it’s all about making news rather than actually bringing out the real news aspect of a story. With online reporting entering the daily newspaper reading space, a contentious headline makes it more clickable, and in this whole business the essence of news is just lost. News is no serious business, rather it’s just business,” added Ayandrali.
Although, adding a different perspective to this situation, Garima Sharma, further claimed, “Citizen journalism has become an indelible part of our world today. But, that is very different from social media armchair journalism. What a citizen reports, even in its most rudimentary form from the ground, is significantly different from a 30-something tweeting his point of view from the comfort of his armchair. To compare a reporter on the ground with that in an armchair is unfair”.
Garima Sharma also feels, that there is credence to observation that news is being commercialized in order to catch eyeballs. But, is the entire Indian media in a state of chaos? No. Most of it? Maybe. The big players? Yes. And all that can be traced back to numbers and cost of printing a newspaper and the subsidy offered to the readers. “The situation is not one of chaos, but it certainly is grim right now. Maybe it will head towards chaos soon,” she added.
A peek into the future, Tanya Mahendru is affirmative that, young Indians are prudent enough to discard paid, frivolous antics disguised as news; forging ahead to voice their opinions on issues that actually matter, which definitely is a new wave of journalism that is bound to usher the truly chaotic grains of biased reporting back to deep waters.
Swayam Tiwari, an experienced media marketing professional, said, that many editors, quite clearly, wear their opinions and ideologies on their sleeves, which also reflects on their editorial policies. “But, all this will eventually lead to a general apathy towards news channels and their digital initiatives. This will further alienate the primary consumers of the digital content, the 18 to 35 year olds,” he added.
According to Garima Sharma, “What Indian media needs, are better ethics, stricter laws (maybe like the legal fraternity) and equally strict consequences. A big newspaper recently instituted a practice where all employees had to take an ethics quiz in order to be compliant with the organization’s policies. But is that sufficient? Given the rapid deterioration of ethical practices, maybe not”.