New moves to gag the media in India

Sumantra Maitra - in Calcutta, India

This has been an eventful week. The inauguration of Barack Ombama as President of the US dominated news coverage in the media as well as the United Nations outcry over the Israeli destruction of Gaza, the ongoing fighting in Sri Lanka, the war of rhetoric between India and Pakistan, and the global economic crisis officially hitting the U.K.

One important and interesting event that's creating a buzz here in India, but went more or less unnoticed elsewhere, is the introduction of a bill and the ensuing debate in the Indian parliament about curbing the powers of the media.

Does this sound like we're going back to the stone age? Wait...there's more. Apparently our politicians (regardless of parties or ideologies) are worried about the amount of violence being shown by the India news channels. Recent examples cited are the Mumbai terrorist attacks, and their alleged harmful influence on the psychology of children. And lastly (listen to this one!) a public interest litigation is being moved, by some Non-Governmental Organisations (N.G.O's) and others who claim that they have become more aware of these problems. Those who are in favour of media reforms also argue that:

News channels are suffering from "breaking news syndrome" and are favouring eye catchy reports instead of regular ethical journalism. (Stumped? I couldn't get the meaning of those words either)

Sensationalist and titillating reality shows are increasing which somehow reflects the voyeuristic mindset of the people in the media (duh!)

And, finally, (this one's the best!) reporters are becoming more bad mannered and are not good role models for impressionable children...(talk about "points of contention"?)

I couldn't resist the urge to present my own response to these arguments. This may be because of the type of person I am or my socio-legal studies background.

Media people are being regarded as the most cursed life form on earth, here in the sub-continent. But is this really justified? In this new age of information should we be going back to the days of dictatorial censorship of the 1970s when the media was controlled by an authoritarian government and news feeds were being judged according to the whims and fancies of a handful of politicians? Isn't this kind of approach the same as living in a fool's paradise, choosing to stay detached from reality?

As for the matter of sensationalism, yes, I agree that there has been a diluting of ethics, but after all one should admit that journalism and the media is a business too! Let's face it, sensational shows, such as crime reporting brings in the highest television ratings.

The idea of children being affected by the violence shown in the news is one of the most ridiculous points I have ever come across. What are parents there for then, if not to protect their kids from watching programmes which they deem to be harmful?  

I met a reporter from The Statesman (one of the oldest newspapers in India) here in Calcutta, who was near the hotel Taj in Mumbai, when in front of him a photojournalist from an international news agency was shot in the hand by a stray bullet from the terrorists. I told him about the reported "bad manners" of field reporters. He smiled sarcastically and said, "When we live in the field surviving on gallons of coffee, some sit at home in the comfort of their drawing rooms only to criticise. We pity their ignorance...".  

I   guess that says it all.