Post Mortem

Pay for news to avoid paid news

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 8/22/2020 12:49:16 PM IST

 The country is once again witness to another round of grand spectacle being played out incessantly almost every day now in the name of news. Yes, most of you perhaps guessed it right. The reference here is to the relentless daily updates (if not minute-by-minute and hourly) being provided by the news channels for almost two months now on every little development pertaining to Sushant Singh Rajput’s unfortunate death/alleged suicide in Mumbai on June 14. Perhaps not a single day passed in the last two months when a news channel did not provide any update to its viewers. 

And not just news updates. Most of these so-called national news channels have also started almost a parallel probe into the case, converted their news studios into some kind of a kangaroo court, interrogating people and pronouncing verdicts, condemning “accused” left and right, carrying two hoots for privacy of individuals or even respecting the due processes of law, little realising that all these would have little bearing on the final outcome of the case. The prime objective of all these is too obvious – continue arousing viewers’ interest and passion, and sustain them by whatever means possible, even if that means resorting to conducts that often border on the bizarre. The end result of this has been that many countrymen are now transfixed by the case and many seems to have even given their verdict against the perceived accused, oblivious to other more pressing issues confronting the country. 

And mind you, this is not an isolated case. One recalls how the Sheena Bora murder case was pursued by these same news channels in a similar manner, as also the kind of coverage on Big B’s recent hospitalisation due to COVID-19 infection, with a few even providing updates on his morning potty. To such levels of absurdity some of these news channels have stooped in the name of news!! The coverage on COVID-19 thus far hasn’t been any encouraging either. With “experts” being roped in and all sorts of predictions being made, unfortunately the focus has been more towards creating panic among the people instead of educating them thoroughly on the pandemic.

Of course, one can’t have anything against news channels reporting on any issue. After all, that’s what they are supposed to and is their primary job. However, the problem is in them trying to “create” news even when it doesn’t exist or build a narrative or sit on judgements, and even becoming a tool for propaganda. Instead of moderating the discussion, news anchors yelling at their guests and heckling them, giving more time to those in sync with their views, taking position on every issue and asking viewers point blank what they should think, instead of allowing them to decide, are clear symptoms of the deep-rooted rot. All these definitely can’t be passed off as journalism for sure. It’s like providing an opinion piece alongside every news item in a newspaper with the editor telling his or her reader how to read the news or what stand to take on the subject. The news channels can be passing on information to their viewers to help form opinions, but they definitely can’t be sermonising and asking them what to listen to or what stand to take. It’s akin to doubting the intelligence of their viewers.

In their sheer brazenness, some news anchors and reporters of certain news channels seem to have even forgotten not only the basic rules of journalism but also human conduct. They have forgotten that they can ask questions but cannot interrogate or force someone to answer them or behave like bullies and moral policemen, that they aren’t law-enforcing agencies and nor can they usurp their roles, including that of investigating agencies and courts and, finally, can’t behave like paparazzi chasing their subjects down the street. Bottomline is they can’t be behaving as if they are a law unto themselves. Yes, “lapses” on the part of government machineries should be exposed and reported, but definitely there are better ways of doing that, and without howling or intruding into someone’s privacy.

The outcome is that this kind of news presentation has lowered the entire profession of journalism and those associated with in the public eye and brought it into serious disrepute, thereby doing the biggest disservice to it. Unfortunately, through such conducts, some of these news channels have converted the entire gamut of news gathering and dissemination and “investigative journalism” into some kind of a TV reality show. But news cannot supplement or complement entertainment as it’s a serious business. 

Actually, the root of all these can be traced to the strange, if not utterly flawed, revenue model that has been worked out by these channels and pursued aggressively. May be unknown to many, all news channels in this country are free-to-air, meaning viewers needn’t pay them for tuning in. The money they pay actually goes to their dish or cable TV operator, and not to the news channels. This is unlike a newspaper whose readers pay its publisher, a portion of which goes to the hawker and distributor. Hence, they have the liberty to change the newspapers they subscribe to. It’s a different matter that even newspapers have started moving towards and relying heavily on advertisement-driven revenue model today instead of being dependent entirely on subscription. However, the basic model hasn’t undergone change. But that’s another topic that would be discussed some other time. 

Now, because these news channels are free-to-air, they sustain themselves only through advertisement revenue. And this is again dependent on viewership – the thumb rule being more the viewers, better the advertisement revenue. There are certain tools for measuring viewership, but even these are not accurate, if not manipulative. This should help one understand why the news channels conduct themselves in the manner they are currently. They try every trick in the trade to draw viewers’ attention and desperately try to hold on to them. And, being free-to-air, some of them even think that they don’t have any moral or social obligation. Actually, anything that comes free is not always worth. It holds true for every product and news is no exception. Thus, news too should command a price, if not a premium, for ensuring quality. It’s too serious a business to be allowed to be determined by market forces, including the corporate, or left in their hands completely. Paying for news is much better than having to contend with paid news. No wonder, some prominent digital news platforms too are gradually moving towards subscription-based revenue model like the print media.

Anirban Choudhury, 

Guwahati

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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