Journalism in India: Transformation from a Source of Information and Education to Yellow Newspapers

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Being the fourth pillar of democracy, the media has always been exercising it’s right of freedom and expression under the Article 19 (a) of the Indian Constitution. In this country, the media has been an agent of revolution in the colonial era and a massive source of information for the public. After independence, the media has developed manifold and has been standing strong ever since with a huge rise in the number of national & regional dailies and news channels. The media has become an integral part of the Indian public. 39 % of the Indians read newspapers. Dainik Jagran has a total readership (last month) of 7,03,77,000 while The Times of India has a total readership of 1,30,47,000. The second largest read daily is Hindustan with a total readership of 5,23,97,000 followed by Amar Ujala at No 3 with total readership of 4,60,94,000. Media has successfully managed to captivate the public and print media is doing exceptionally well even in the digital age. However, the adherence to ethics and standard guidelines of journalism seems to be fading as every newspaper has its own ideology which prevents it from publishing news that is accurate.

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This research will try figuring out how journalism has changed over the years from being an art of informing & educating to a mere business trying to catch the attention of the public through news that is poorly researched.

Yellow Journalism

Yellow Journalism basically refers to news that is poorly researched and catchy headlines are used to grab the attention of the reader. This kind of news provides information that is not of concern to the public and clearly violates the ethics of journalism by being partial, inaccurate, inauthentic and solely for the purpose of seeking attention of the readers or viewers.

It is called yellow journalism because in the mid 1890s yellow ink was used to characterise the sensational journalism in the circulation of war between Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal.

Newspapers in India in the 21st century have been using this technique of sensationalism to grab the attention of the readers. Also, there is violation of standard ethics and guidelines of journalism It is a rare phenomenon in today’s day and age that the journalists adhere to the ethical guidelines. There is always bias, distortion of facts, inhuman approaches to get the questions answered and absolutely zero accountability. Journalism has faced a severe backlash from the people and very recently Ravish Kumar, a renowned journalist in a speech says that “I do not want to spoil the evening but all you news channels have spoiled the evening for India”. Addressing the gathering, Kumar said that all news channels that are propagating terror and violence under the guise of nationalism should introspect. He said that the rules of journalism state that it is important for news anchors neither to get carried away by passions themselves, nor to instigate others to do it. This is the state of journalism today and as far as ethics are concerned, that word probably now ceases to exist in our dictionaries.

Instances of Yellow Journalism in India

The media has become a full fledged industry where success runs on profit and the art of journalism is given little or no recognition. The journalists have to submit a number of stories before the wind up for the day where they give the ethics as little consideration as possible. If the story is able to shoot up the TRP rates, it gets all the attention and more manpower is used to repeatedly build different aspects in the same story, does not matter how accurate or factual these stories are. All they have to do is make it up to the PCR to be aired on the channels where everyone is battling with one another to reach the top.

For instance, the channels after Sridevi, the veteran actress died  on February 24th, 2018, kept reporting about her death in a manner that shattered her image and brought her down despite her popularity. Once the forensic reports of “traces of alcohol” being found in her blood were revealed, the reporters reiterated on the thought of her being a regular drinker as they went around interviewing friends of the family on what she usually drank. Their was a wide speculation amongst all the media houses and channels on what she used to drink rather than her achievements for nearly half a century in the film industry. Those achievements were long forgotten and her morality was a real question now, which the media thought was a better way of letting her soul rest in peace. Many of them even questioned the fact that losing balance in a bathtub is skeptical as she was a trained dancer. Again, this highly contributed into helping her soul rest in peace. This incident came as a shock to all her fans but the media’s coverage about that slammed her character should come across as an even bigger shock as the ethics involved are zilch.

In 2008, the tragic incident of Mumbai terror attacks sent shockwaves all over the world. Barkha Dutt was the NDTV Group editor at that time and was slammed with charges of insensitive, invasive and excessive coverage of the 26/11 attacks. There were conflicting reports on the number of causalities, the number of terrorists involved at the Leopold Cafe and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus , the number of hostages at the Taj and Trident hates and the number of defence personnel being brought in to control the situation. The channels were in a battle again with one another as Rajdeep Sardesai, editor in chief of  CNN IBN, besides Barkha Dutt went to ground zero and compete with each other to become the first ones to provide exclusive coverage of the same. Rajat Sharma even went to the extent of telecasting live interviews with the terrorists in the Oberoi and Taj, jeopardising everyone’s lives for the sake of TRP. The lives did not matter but the live coverage did. This kind of journalism broke every ethical guideline that exists as despite the desperate attempt of being transparent, there was no accuracy or accountability and definitely no humanity.  Another serious breach of ethical guidelines took place in 2017, when a  Wall Street Journal reporter, Jay Solomon was fired over ethical violations as he was involved in a prospective business deal with an arms dealer who was one of his journalism sources. He was offered a 10 percent stake in the company that dealt with arms and ammunitions according to the reports by the AP. The AP also reviewed communications where Solomon closed $725 million deal with the UAE which involved the use of surveillance planes.  Arnab Goswami, one of the most popular journalist in the Indian subcontinent more often than not violates the ethics that prevent him from being a journalist at all. He is very opinionated despite being well researched about the topic he is dealing with. He also raises his voice so loud to make a point that it often leaves the guests on his show disgruntled and disturbed. He does not stick to the ethical guidelines of a journalist. He makes sure that he gets the answers from the people however his approach to do the same is absolutely unethical  and often demeaning. 

In 2016, Arnab held a debate about the Jasleen Kaur eve teasing case where Jasleen Kaur herself was on of the panelists. The guy allegedly  accused of eve teasing her, Sarvajeet Singh was slammed by the media and even called things such as a “potential rapist” without any proof. He faced media trials that mean one is guilty until proven innocent. The media, especially Arnab went beyond all the limits to defame the man and distort his image in the public forums. He clearly took sides and referred to her as a “braveheart”, congratulated her on the outset of the show and makes the show all about him and those on his side. Jasleen Kaur goes on to say that he commented on her genitals, this very statement was made only on this show and nowhere else by her which clearly implies that things had been made up to gather as much viewership as possible. Also, she was exhibiting herself in a way that she was rather exited to be on television and the limelight was on her. All this clearly violates the very guideline of accuracy, factuality, impartiality and accountability. He also subtly encouraged others to cut in when Deepika Bharadwaj, his opponent had to speak as she would have made sense and given logical arguments which would defy his purpose of defaming the man. When Kamal Faruqi makes a statement and refers to Jasleen as a proud daughter, he suffered a backlash as Arnab criticised the statement and insults him for calling her a daughter. This ridiculous behaviour of his left everyone in anguish.

Faruqi replies by saying that “ You are objecting to my wording.., what is wrong with you?”. Clearly everything is wrong with Arnab as he defies every code of conduct and even basic courtesy as he strives to make the TRP rates shoot up. This was indeed a very toxic show for which Times Now had to pay the price as the News Broadcasting Standards Authority(NBSA) charged it with a fine of Rs. 50,000 for not maintaining neutrality during the show. The channel was also asked to issue an apology. 

Later, Jasleen Kaur was busted for falsely accusing the guy but the image of Arnab was tainted. He is no more a member of Times Now and has a channel Republic of his own and is still criticised for his violation of ethics.

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