The 1890’s was an exciting time in the journalistic world. A rivalry between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst led to the coining of the term “Yellow Journalism.”
Although the phrase had its roots in a cartoon strip, it eventually came to imply the kind of journalism that used sensationalism to accrue a more extensive readership base. The newspapers used bold headlines along with brightly coloured pictures so as to attract the attention of its audience.
During the late 19th century, this journalism was only limited to more straightforward tactics that did not tarnish the quality or truth of the actual news. However, modern media is doing just the opposite.
Irrelevant news articles and programmes find their way into the headlines, and people are forced to consume innate content. This has harmed the reliability of the media. People have learnt from experience that everything the media says or shows may not be true.
This is appalling because the media has always been accorded the status of the “Fourth Pillar of Democracy”. It is responsible for keeping the democratic opinions alive among the public. The truth of the public representatives and their actions reaches the masses through the media. It is then deplorable that the media does not present the whole truth before the public.
Journalism is the production and distribution of reports on recent events. While journalists are entitled to have personal opinions regarding an issue, it is unprofessional to add those opinions while reporting on an event.
Political biases and prejudices of the reporters are obvious to the listeners or readers from the malicious or honey-coated words of the journalist. Not only individual journalists, but entire media houses also have their affinities. They refuse to relay programmes that go against their preferred political camp.
The fourth pillar of democracy does not wish to allow people to distinguish between right and wrong on their own. One-sided news is supposed to colour the opinions of a billion people so that their agenda is accomplished. The smallest achievements of their preferred party are discussed for extended periods of time, while burning issues are completely missed out.
For instance while a part of the country, namely Chennai, is grappling with a major drought, the media is busy only reporting about the success of a movie at the box office or something similarly lame like the airport look of a celebrity. The country needs to know about issues going on in all parts of the world, while the media is busy trying to take a peek in the life of any particular person with whom it is obsessed.
We do not have many reliable sources from which to know about the events of the world without bias. Thus, the media is hardly living up to its standards.
Insensitivity and Blatant Disregard for the Law
The media connects with people around the world. People all over the world can find anything they want through media. Isn’t it then, the responsibility of journalists to allow only decent and true information to float over the internet, radio, television and newspapers?
This is the era of TRP’s. Media houses can go to any extent to expand viewership and readership. But they have to set boundaries when it comes to publicity stunts. Sensationalism is a part of this business. Yet, when it loses every ounce of dignity, it needs to be stopped.
The very recent example of this apathy is the Kathua Rape case. In cases of rape, the Indian law forbids revealing the identity of the survivor, especially their photograph. It is a move to protect the dignity of that person and empathise with what they have suffered.
Unfortunately, the media did not consider this and under the guise of creating awareness and public hatred against the accused, they published not only the photos, but the address, family details and other particulars of the survivor.
It was downright abominable to do such a thing. Can the media not respect the ordeals of a person? Sensitive information related to a case is leaked casually and the face of a troubled family is for all to see. Can the media really go to any extent to gain viewership?
Another trend in the media circles relates to media trials. News persons who are supposed to give unbiased facts to the public colour the facts with their opinions. People on trial become criminals in the eyes of the media, subsequently the public; even before the court can pronounce the sentence.
Ministers who are accused of some wrongs in court are viewed in the light of their party and its relations with a media house. For a favoured party, the channel or paper might be lenient in stating their crime or even call it a conspiracy by the opposing parties.
In case of a disliked party, the minister will become a criminal even before the trial begins in court. The media trial also allows for opinions on how the convicts should be sentenced by the court. Blatant disrespect and disregard for the judiciary.
This is an alarming trend in the media. Some wire agencies concoct false news to sell to the houses and editors fail to check the news before it is published. Some TV channels create absurd news items so that they can have content for viewers at the given time. They do not shy away from creating death hoaxes and rumours about celebrities to keep us engaged.
This is the stark difference between modern-day journalism and the time when journalism began. It began as a means of reaching out to people and keeping them abreast with the times.
It has slowly spiralled into a creative-writing job that does not relay news but creates it. Modern- day media is an author of its own style. It understands the demands of the viewers and then creates content according to what they seek. Facts are no longer in style.
Although journalism has become a business, it hasn’t lost its heart completely. There are still heart-warming stories of news reports leading to upliftment of the people. Covering real stories and struggles of the people is journalism as a socialist job. Journalism has the power to create a difference in the lives of people and that is what it does in the hands of able journalists.
There are still newspapers that believe in communicating essential facts and give the space to only important news items. Their outreach is also a reason for actions by the government. Media trials are only a source of entertainment to the people. When essential facts are conveyed correctly, the person in the wrong immediately understands it.
The society needs objectivity. There are several political factions in the society at present. There is no need for more controversy and separatism. Journalism can also unite the different colours and layers of society.
Journalism has reached its zenith in terms of technology. There are several media to convey reports and news instantaneously, foremost among them is the internet. However, as the technology is ascending, the quality of human writing and expression is deteriorating.
Journalists quite often forget that they are humans before representing a particular profession. They should understand the boundaries of human space and privacy and the need for honest reporting in place of sensationalism. Journalism has to go back to its inception and understand the reasons it began, in the very first place.
People have enough negativity in their regular lives to not want more through sensational headlines. Journalists can practice their ethical standards to ensure that quality content reaches the audience. Media can be dangerous. Or it can be an empowering tool that proves to be the greatest achievement of mankind since baked bread.
Opinions and emotions are for writers and readers. When a journalist reports, he is bound to present the truth. The whole truth when presented before an audience can evoke their own types of judgement. That is their prerogative and essentially that of the judiciary.
The fourth pillar of democracy is merely the means for transparency and placing a mirror before society. The events and their reporting provoke reflection within the people which is way more important than sermonising and preaching. Journalism is thus, a means for self-reflection in society.
While the race to be the best media house continues, thousands of events are left without coverage. The numbers game and the hunger for monetary gains only lead to destruction. Every organisation needs money to function, but this is a revolutionising profession. It needs to be bigger than an individual or an organization.
It needs to take the whole world in its lap and dissect the pieces that are breaking and put them before the other parts of the world to see, take in, and repair.
This is not a profession of competition and rivalry, it is one of brotherhood and growth. Everybody needs to grow together for this profession to prosper. Journalists have to find the path that leads them to the deeper consequences of their actions. They have to find the thing that excites them the most and follow it so that none of its aspects remain uncovered; all the while they have to remain humble, sensitive and objective.
The world will not improve in a day. They will not get overnight fame for huge stories, overnight. They just have to remain sane and believe in what they are pursuing. When they start publishing negative stories, their mind only attracts negativity. When they find the one thing that keeps them going, they remain forever humble towards society and make things better, one day at a time.