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Indian media's focus on frivolity is unconscionable; regulation could lift it from its present morass

I was at a Thanksgiving party in an American city recently, and some people there talked about how they had heard — via the Indian media — of an Indian industrialist's daughter's forthcoming wedding, and how fabulous and mind-blowing it was supposed to be.

After hearing all this for some time, and when I could stand it no longer, I said, "Isn't it the height of vulgarity to celebrate a wedding in such an extravagant manner when crores of Indian children do not get enough to eat?" I then mentioned that according to the Global Hunger Index, 21 percent children in India are "wasted" ie their weight is too low relative to their height, which indicates acute malnutrition, and that in fact, 47 percent of Indian children are malnourished. I also bought up the 3,00,000 farmers suicides in the country, the massive unemployment, almost total lack of proper healthcare and good education for the masses, etc.

This retort apparently upset many of those present, who quickly moved to another room. I was reminded of the Sanskrit adage, 'Na bruyat satyam apriyam' (Don't speak an unpleasant truth). Unfortunately, habits die hard.

 Indian medias focus on frivolity is unconscionable; regulation could lift it from its present morass

Representational image. Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri

I found it disgusting when a large section of the Indian media highlighted the spectacular weddings of Priyanka Chopra with Nick Jonas, and of Deepika Padukone with Ranveer Singh, as if these were important issues in the country. I feel the same way when the media highlights the lives of Taimur, the son of Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan, and Aradhya, the granddaughter of Amitabh Bachchan.

Many years back a leading English journal published on its front page an article about female breast enlargement surgery, and how affordable it has become now, costing only Rs 1.50 lakh. I immediately wrote to the editor of that journal lodging a strong protest. I said that most Indian women were bravely toiling from morning till night running the household, feeding their families, and sometimes doing outdoor work in addition to earn a little money. It was a cruel insult to talk about breast enlargement to them.

The Indian state and the Indian media seem to try and divert public attention from the real issues facing the people, which are socio-economic, to entertainment like cricket, lives of film stars, babas, astrology, petty politics, etc.

One would not have any objection to the media showcasing some 'entertainment' if it is not overdone. But when 90 percent of the Indian media's coverage is devoted to entertainment (and I include Indian politics in that category) and very little to social issues like healthcare, malnourishment and education, there is surely something wrong with it.

Some time back, the Lakme Fashion Week in Mumbai was covered by 512 accredited journalists. The models wore cotton dresses, while the farmers who grew that cotton were committing suicide an hour's flight away in Vidarbha. No one told that story except one or two journalists locally.

There was a time when we had great journalists like Raja Ram Mohan Roy who in his journals Mirat-ul-Akhbar and Sambad Kaumudi wrote against sati, child marriage and purdah; Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi who through his newspaper 'Pratap' fought against oppression and was killed by a mob while opposing communalism; and Nikhil Chakraborty who highlighted the Bengal famine of 1943. Even today we have great journalists like Palagummi Sainath who revealed the stories of farmers suicides in rural India. But these are exceptions, and most Indian journalists of today appear to be sold out. The TRP driven electronic media are the worst culprits.

In England, the Leveson Inquiry report castigated the 'sensationalism' and 'recklessness' in the British media, and recommended an independent regulator. Perhaps the same is needed in India too. No freedom can be absolute, and neither can freedom of the press.

No doubt there is freedom in a democracy, but there is also accountability. Lawyers are in a free profession, but if they commit professional misconduct, their licence can be suspended or cancelled by the Bar Council, and the same can be done for doctors by the Medical Council for any medical misconduct. As a judge in the High Court and the Supreme Court, I could function independently, but at the same time, could be impeached by Parliament for taking bribes. So everyone in society is accountable.

But media people stoutly oppose any accountability, even by an independent regulator. They say they will self-regulate.

In my opinion, self-regulation is an oxymoron. If there is to be self-regulation, why should it be for the media alone? Why have laws against theft, rape or murder? Let everyone regulate themselves.

I regret to say so, but in my opinion, most media persons are superficial people having little knowledge of history, science, economics, literature or philosophy, but pretending to be great 'intellectuals' who can discourse on everything under the sun.

And of course about their ethics, the less said the better.

The author is a former Supreme Court judge and former chairman for the Press Council of India.

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Updated Date: Dec 04, 2018 13:15:45 IST