Two central functions of news media are credible information giving and being critical-investigative-adversarial. The first function is quite simple to understand and if the second function is to be delivered in an oft used word it would be ‘watchdog’. There however exists another paradigm of ‘pastime’ function of media. Also called as whiling away the time pleasantly, which the French called the ‘pleasure principle’, this aspect of news media is certainly proving to be a stirring a hornets’ nest. It is only when the pastime function of media overshadows and obliterate the two central functions does it become an issue to be pondered upon and condemned. And the present day news media is just doing that.
The case in point would be two ladies who have become household names, courtesy the ‘footage’ they have received in the past few days. One of them had a primary qualification to fame by being a former girlfriend of a match-fixing tainted Pakistani cricketer, and the other a non resident Indian who happens to be an actress of exotic movies in the US. Veena Malik and Sunny Leone. Both were roped in by the Big Boss, a show run by Endemol, who get their fair share of TRP’s by attracting such controversial names. Should a TV channel resort to such gimmicks to grab eyeballs is open for another debate.
The story however doesn’t end at that. It begins right there for the news media and the entertainment media. In the rat race of media where channels sprout like mushrooms, all trying to edge past others, be it in the cyberspace or on the television sets, it boils down to who grabs how many eyeballs. And it is at that point that titillating takes over ethics. Advertorial revenues are directly proportional to TRP’s and number of clicks online. That TRP in itself is not a fool proof method is another issue, but more about it later. And nothing sells better than controversy, especially of the fairer kinds.
Another factor that compounds the issue is lack of regulation. Regulation is one word bound to create hue and cry with regard to freedom of media, but as Justice Markandey Katju, president of Press Council of India, recently put it – “no freedom is absolute”. It is responsibility which gives freedom its sweet taste. His comments though unfair yet true regarding the level of aptitude that media professionals possess can in a distant fashion be linked with this issue. Half the graduates of journalism wouldn’t even know who Justice Katju is, forget about his scathing comments. A testimony to that would be to forget for a moment about the content concerning the above mentioned ladies, the crass language used in reports further aim at objectification and sensationalism.
Believers of absolute freedom retort with a view that no one is forcing upon these ladies on the audience, whatever be their credentials, and one may choose either to watch or refrain from watching them or news related to them. But when leading newspapers and news channels (leading here would mean subscribers and viewership respectively) dedicate enough of space and time to news related to either concerning posing for a magazine, offers of movies, their relationship status and preferences, their dressing style or the lack of it, and any and many such trivia, de facto thrusting the ‘news’ on audience of a large spectrum results. And that is unwarranted.
The second claim of a hypocritical society is often raised who would endorse Veena Maliks and Sunny Leones but would not acknowledge their presence in the mainstream. Even though it would qualify for hypocrisy, for matters of private choice it could as well be so. Would claimants of broad mindset agree with authority that they have been hypocritical, or call it espousing personal choice over popular beliefs, ever? There is absolutely no discomfort about the choice of lifestyle a Veena Malik or a Sunny Leone has adopted. They have all rights to it. It is about the undesirable infiltration of their lifestyles into the TV and its impact on society – children and adults alike which is a matter of concern.
As Justice Katju put it, entertainment by news media is essential but only to a minor extent. It is imperative that in a growing society, which has moved from impoverishment to prosperity in few decades, the role of media, often dubbed as the fourth estate is paramount. Social responsibility overweighs the need of cheap entertainment. Intellectual development, critical thinking, credible information giving, watchdog, should take the front seat. Not the Veena Maliks and Sunny Leones.