Wednesday, October 08, 2008

More on the Fourth Estate

Just saw Good Night, And Good Luck. Now this is a movie that has to be, HAS to be shown to every graduating media person.
I was impressed by Murrows statements here and there during the movie, irrespective of whether he really did say them or not or if he did, if he did so so eloquently. One of them that particularly impressed me was

"Let us dream to the extent of saying that on a given Sunday night the time normally occupied by Ed Sullivan is given over to a clinical survey of the state of American education, and a week or two later the time normally used by Steve Allen is devoted to a thoroughgoing study of American policy in the Middle East.
To those who say people wouldn't look; they wouldn't be interested; they're too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter's opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost. This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. Good night, and good luck."
addressing the people gathered, presumably to institute the Radio and Television News Directors Association (RTDNA) - Edward Murrow Awards.
The question of whether the struggle is lost or not is one that will require many many more pages by people more intelligent and involved than myself. But I've no doubt that it has indeed been lost.
The US has had a maturing television broadcasting industry for more than 6 decades now and provides the potential for the fastest maturity due to the sheer size of the country, its diverse communities and vibrant culture. And yes it has matured... but not in ways one would like it to be.
The niches provide sermons for the converted. Conservatives watch conservative channels and programs and the liberals watch their own. Latinos have their own channels and Indians log on to for their dose. There is no cross pollination and there is no attempt either by the media or the consumers to cross pollinate. Blogs are even worse as they provide you with highly niche content and readers are even more fragmented here.
This is beginning to tell on India as well as the industry here has leapfrogged into the 21st century straight into US-style reporting with none of the pains and lessons learnt from puberty. We are unapolegetic about trying cases in the media. We are unapologetic about wrong reporting or plagiarising. We are unapologetic about carrying rumours.

Conservative Indians call the Indian media "liberal" and slanted towards "minorities", even while it is nothing of that kind. To be honest, editorialising with all the ills that it can bring is non-existent except in the Hindu, the Outlook and the pioneer, the first two of which are unabashedly liberal and the latter, unabashedly conservative.
The laughing stock of the agnostic media consumer, the old lady of Boribunder, is unabashedly "market driven", while its nothing of that sort. The marketers there assume the average Indian is an idiot and they fulfill their prophesy with content that matches the average idiot. Yet, even this reportage is termed "liberal". And nothing to say of the likes of NDTV which is supposedly anti-conservative, probably because it provides platforms where conservatives can be heard and be laughed at for the idiots that they usually are.
Sorry, I seem to be editorialising the post :D
Editorialising is such a temptation. But the fourth estate has to have some amount of restraint. To slant like Fox does is criminal.
The BBC and the Guardian both of which I highly respect faulted on the reporting of Zimbabwe due to Britain's involvement. Zimbabwe might be a tin-pot republic but the people of the world have a right to know what really is happening there without reporters giving their own slants to the reportage and prejudices showing through barely concealed contempt.
The NYT does something similar whenever Venezuela is involved. And its reporting on China is preposterous for the amount of bad press they give this country that has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty. And so is its reporting of India which seems to be less than a dot on the map. And when it does report on India, we get condescending articles of cows on expressways and about BPOs.
Where, honest reportage? Where the maxim "I may not agree with you but I'll fight to death for your right to disagree with me". It chokes me to think that there ARE still people in this world for whom this maxim is internalised but it seems to me that they are completely drowned in a morass of "market driven" bullshit and disingenuous editorialising.
My disclaimer is disclosure that I'm unabashedly liberal and I read the Hindu, the Outlook, the NYT and the Guardian and watch NDTV and BBC; not because they're "liberal" but the quality of restraint on editorialising on all of these is very high and the editorialising is usually restricted to the editorial in the newspaper/magazines and opinion-programmes in the broadcasters. I'd also like to wonder, why it is that editorialisation is lower in liberal media.

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