Indian media: Thumbs up or dumbing down?
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Indian media: Thumbs up or dumbing down?

A wave of indignation is sweeping through India on all sides of the debate on the motion: ‘Most media professionals are of low intellectual caliber”. Two representative bodies – Editors’ Guild of India and Broadcast Editors’ Association – have condemned and deplored views of Press Council chairman, Markandey Katju. These opinions were first expressed in an interaction with media professionals on October 10, 2011 and subsequently in an interview with TV anchor Karan Thapar a few days ago.

Justice Katju’s previous interaction did not elicit much publicity. But his TV interview created a stir not just among the media but also among viewers and readers. This is possibly because Justice Katju was less careful with his words in the course of the interview than he was at his home while hosting a get-together for select media persons.


Pic: AP.

Generalizations are always wrong. The recently appointed PCI chairman accused the media of this in his interaction. He argued – quite rightly so – that repeating names with religious identity as senders of e-mails claiming responsibility for terrorist attacks, paints the entire community. He is right in contending the temperature can be kept low if names are underplayed.

But Justice Katju himself falls prey to generalizing by painting the entire media community with a single brush (qualifying that there are “some very respected journalists”). He further generalized that most journalists do not “have any knowledge of economic theory or political science or literature or philosophy. I don’t think they have studied all this”.

Justice Katju’s outburst however gives an opportunity to Indian media professionals to look inwards and explore if there is even the slightest basis for the charges to stick. Scrolling down the responses left behind by visitors on the IBN Live website, it is evident that support exists for the PCI chairman’s views because “anyone who listens to the media circus and analyses it will understand…. the truth… No one is interested in the truth. Just sensationalism.”

This is a single response and cannot be considered representing the dominant viewpoint but early trends on a poll on endorse this view. Importantly in the last few years there is unanimity in the media (at least among the section I interact with) that over the past decade and half there has been a considerable ‘dumbing-down’ of the media – primarily TV but also in print.

Market pressure is the most common argument to justify triviality. This is partly true but there is another factor. In the period media has grown exponentially, not much thought has been given to the question of where journalists who need to work in them will come from.

Institutes have mushroomed and an estimated six to eight thousand students pass out every year with degrees, diplomas or certificates in mass communication. Unfortunately, these institutes look solely at the ‘quantity of their inputs’ but not at the ‘quality of the output’. Unless leaders of the professions show concern at improving the quality of entry-level professionals, the industry will remain open to Katju-like charges.