News and Views: The Truth of the Newsroom

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Rohit Gandhi, Suhel Seth, Sudhir Chaudhary and Teresa Rehman,

 in conversation with Palki Sharma Upadhyay

 

Prachi Bhagwat, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogger

 

Typically referred to as the fourth pillar of democracy, the media in recent times has attracted feelings of distrust and cynicism, not just in India but all over the world. Viewers and readers, owing to reports of instances of paid news and political interference in media organisations, are growing skeptical of the information that they encounter in the pages of newspapers and on television screens. It is therefore necessary to question what really does transpire in the newsroom, observed journalist, and moderator of the session, Palki Sharma Upadhyay.

Journalist Rohit Gandhi believes that for an honest individual, a job in the media is a cake walk: one only has to speak the truth. With the level of technology available today, a lie can be identified within minutes. He did clarify however, that there is a deficit of credibility in some sections of the media. There are ‘people who have cheated the system but are not hauled up. There is a need for a system of accountability.’

Senior Editor of Zee News Sudhir Chaudhary noted that the tone and tenor of reportage, as well as the level of honesty with which news is reported, lies with the reporter and the editorial team of any organisation. There are some news organisations with teams that report with a confirmation bias, he added.

Writer and entrepreneur Suhel Seth observed that, in addition to a lack of honesty, the space for intellect, facts, and transparency in the news is ‘shrinking.’ One of the problems that he views as a contributing factor to the situation, is reporters’ thirst for ‘celebrity status.’ Another predicament is the ‘prohibitive cost’ of running media organisations. ‘When costs go up, commerce takes greater precedence. The space for reasoned, calm, calibrated reporting’ has nearly disappeared, Seth observed. Gandhi stated that the rising costs of news coverage have become an excuse for some organisations to resort to shortcuts, such as organising panel discussions with animated panelists.

Yet another side-effect of news organisations disseminating content designed on the basis of Television Rating Point reports, is that the stories that don’t ‘sell’ are rendered invisible. Journalist Teresa Rehman runs an independent online magazine, Thumb Print, which dreams to go ‘global with local stories.’ Reporting miles away from the centre of power, Thumb Print publishes stories from the North-eastern region of India. As these states are largely absent from mainstream media narratives, Rehman decided not to ‘beg for space but find one for herself.’

Seth criticized the explanation media personnel often offer in defence of sub-standard content: ‘they are giving the people what they want and like.’ He argued that while the TRP system is an inconvenient reality, it is not the media’s business to ‘dumb down society. We need to revisit our intellectual bandwidth…When you lose attention to detail in media, you do a great disservice.’

The discussion ended on a somber note with Chaudhary stating that stakeholders, including political parties and advertisers, will inevitably try and dictate their terms. The media now, more than ever, needs to collectively strive to maintain objectivity in reportage.

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