Sobriety and maturity are no longer the hallmarks of mainstream media as they were once upon a time, not many years ago. Readers and, possibly more important, advertisers would be aghast at the slightest hint of digressing from the strait and the narrow of mainstream journalism.
Even party papers like People’s Democracy and Frontier, by no stretch of the imagination anywhere near ‘mainstream’ publications, were staid and conscious of their respectability, at least among certain classes. Tabloids were for the masses and Russi Karanjia was more sneered at than admired for what appeared between the front and back pages of Blitz, his grand posturing notwithstanding.
This young man in Delhi was accused by a woman of sexually harassing her. He was arrested, produced in court and released on bail. By the time he came out of police custody, the concocted story had fallen in bits and pieces. Pic/Twitter
All that changed with the collapse of stalwarts like The Statesman and the advent of broadsheets repackaged as tabloids printed in lurid colours. The Page-3-fication of newspapers marked a shift from mainstream media tending to the classes to pandering to the masses. While the editor sat in his ivory tower called the Edit Page, pontificating on weighty issues, the marketing team ran riot with the rest of the paper.
That is till owners realised intellectually gifted editors were a drain on resources and sacked them unceremoniously. They were replaced with ‘door openers’ designated as editors. The new breed, the arriviste who could have never dreamt of growing beyond the desk or stepping into the hallowed ‘corridor’ where the editor presided over his team of assistant editors, unless summoned for a tongue-lashing, took to door-opening with gusto. Owners loved them.
Then news television came, riding the 24-hour-news-cycle cartwheel. Everything had to be instant. Everything had to be dumbed down. Everything had to grab eyeballs. Everything had to make money. If advertisers were appalled by a passing hint of recklessness in the past, they now cheered the loudest as new depths were plumbed. Newspapers, afraid to lose out on advertising revenue, began to take their cue from the idiot box.
If we thought we had seen the worst with newspapers and news telly tripping over each other to grab eyeballs and TRPs, we were clearly wrong. The arrival of social media, and its exponential growth across the classes and the masses redefined the rules of the game.
Twitter and Facebook, or the other way round if user base is to be the benchmark, began deciding ‘Breaking News’ and front page headlines. Today, whatever is trending on social media tops the news list too. The reverse is equally true. Such are the times we live in.
So it’s not surprising that if the puke-inducing shenanigans of high society P3P (Page 3 People, for the uninitiated) are trending on social media, what passes for mainstream media today should race to translate that into lurid headlines and eye-popping, breath-taking ‘Breaking News’. On Friday morning, we were treated to “Indrani eats a sandwich”. It reminded me of “Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster”, The Sun’s most memorable headline.
But it’s not only about headlines, ‘breaking news’, ill-informed opinion being paraded as news or colourful fiction, attributed to unnamed (and likely non-existent) sources being peddled as fact. It’s about the danger all this poses to individuals and entities, the threat of disrobing perfectly respectable men and women, young and old, of their honour and denuding them of their dignity.
You could post the picture of a person on Facebook or tweet it to the world at large on Twitter, accuse him or her of committing the vilest deeds, and sit back and watch media going bonkers running your accusation as a story worthy of primetime debate.
This past week a young lad in Delhi was accused by a woman of sexually harassing her. All newspapers and channels rushed to run the story without so much as bothering to speak to the young man. He was pronounced guilty in hysterical verdicts that would make kangaroo courts look like a teddy bears’ party.
News channels and newspapers now prowl like a pack of hyenas, looking for a kill to scrounge upon. The hyena who leads the pack, and I refer to Arnab Goswami, called the Delhi lad “a pervert” and his dad “the pervert’s father”. The young man was arrested, produced in court and released on bail. By the time he came out of police custody, the concocted story had fallen apart in bits and pieces.
The victim of this spit-and-scoot journalism will have to dust off the slur heaped on him. Had he been more faint-hearted, he would have contemplated jumping to his death. But who cares? The woman who lied about him had her five hours of fame. Arnab and his ilk had their day’s TRP quota. Having done that, they have moved to the next story about a hideous scandal in a scandalous family.
I am pretty sure a time shall come when tormentors posing as journalists will wake up one day to find their photos plastered all over social media and themselves accused of molestation and worse. How would they cope with that? Especially when the allegation would not be entirely untrue? After all, our intelligence is molested and what was once known as media ethics is raped every morning, afternoon and evening by charlatans who believe they alone are god’s gift to this world.
The writer is a senior journalist based in the National Capital Region. His Twitter handle is @KanchanGupta
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