No need for regulation in media – it’s happening by itself

The media, by being critical of rivals, is capable of collective self-regulation by focusing on areas that need focus. Independent media watchdogs also help do the same job.

Anant Rangaswami May 10, 2012 11:47:09 IST
No need for regulation in media – it’s happening by itself

On Wednesday, as one of the new features Firstpost launched to mark our first anniversary, we kicked off a live debate section, with the first discussion being focused on whether media could be truly free and without bias. At one point, a reader asked whether media could be trusted.

“Trust will take time. Once you see sincerity and consistency, you begin to trust. Trust cannot be legislated or imposed. Otherwise we could all be happy with DD — the most regulated newsroom in the country,” Firstpost editor R Jagannathan interjected.

A few minutes earlier, reader Janardhan had asked of the FP editors, “So then why do we have media houses ignoring issues completely? And why isn't the media self-regulating more?”

No need for regulation in media  its happening by itself

Self-regulation might be some distance away – but some form of regulation is available, is growing.

“You have hit the nail on the head. We need better self-regulation — but right now there is no one to bell the cat. Maybe Markandeya Katju will end up doing this in some way,” Jagannathan responded to Janardhan.

Self-regulation might be some distance away – but some form of regulation is available, is growing. While a particular news product is reluctant to regulate itself, it is becoming less and less reluctant to comment on the goings-on at the competition.

This morning, for example, The Hindu’s P Sainath tore into The Times of India. The Times of India, in an incident of alleged paid news, did a full page story on how Monsanto’s BT cotton seeds helped farmers.

Here’s how Sainath’s op-ed begins. “Three-and-a-half years ago, at a time when the controversy over the use of genetically modified seeds was raging across India, a newspaper story painted a heartening picture of the technology's success…So heartening was this account that nine months ago, the same story was run again in the same newspaper, word for word. (The Times of India, August 28, 2011).Sainath’s entire piece can be read here

So we have one newspaper keeping tabs on another. Sainath does make a disclosure at the end of his piece, which reads “The Hindu and The Times of India are competitors in several regions of India.” While this is not self-regulation in the sense that a newspaper is not regulating itself, it is self-regulation in the sense that the alleged errors of omission and commission are being highlighted by the industry itself, without the need for the government to keep watch.

There are more ‘regulators’ prowling around. Some, like The Hoot, have been around for years – and they’re getting more vocal, confident and strident.  Take a recent story on the lack of disclosure by the owners of Mail Today and different treatments of the same story by two different products owned by the group. “On April 7, Mail Today led with a story attacking the government for the terms it was offering private schools for opening up to underprivileged children. It interviewed, among others, the director of Vasant Valley School, owned by the same family that part-owns Mail Today. No disclaimer was carried stating as much. At night however, the same ownership's TV outlet Headlines Today attacked private schools for not being sufficiently open to the proposal by the Union sports minister that private schools open their ground to underprivileged children after school hours. Sometimes lack of consistency is a good thing,” The Hoot reported.

Madhu Trehan’s is a welcome new watchdog. In less than a month, the website has made a mark – keeping the news media constantly under the microscope. Take this interview with Hindustan Times’ political editor Vinod Sharma, where she questions him pointedly on his pro-Congress affiliations. “Have you ever spoken about the Congress? Trehan asks him. Watch Sharma fumble for an adequate, credible answer to the question.

The Hoot and Newslaundry are just two ‘independent’ watchdogs. These two, and others of their ilk, are aided and abetted by the phenomenon of competition in media – which has meant that the gloves are off. News media products, unlike the situation that prevailed till a few years ago, report on the transgressions of their competition, as Sainath has done in the Monsanto case.

There’ll be more Hoots, Newslaundrys born. There’ll be more instances of media products exposing their competitors. Firstpost readers like Janardhan will be happy, in that the news media will be under check.

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