Does the media care?

Speakers at the seminar on Does Media Care Pix: Gargi Nim

As questions are raised on how efficiently Indian media is covering social issues, a seminar hosted jointly by the BBC World Service and MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia organise a seminar to debate the issues of media obsession and responsibility.
Dipu Shaw reports…

“There is something deeply absurd about the state of the nation today”, began Tarun Tejpal, editor in chief and publisher of Tehelka, in his assertive tone. The occasion was a seminar organised jointly by the BBC World Service Trust and the Mass Communication Research Centre of Jamia Millia Islamia and the media baron was delivering the key note address on “The Indian Media: Is it obsessed with celebrities and crime?”

The BBC World Service has collaborated with three of India’s journalism colleges: The Asian School of Journalism, Chennai, AJKMCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia University, Delhi and the Amity School of Communication, Lucknow to improve the quality of training in social journalism. The project is being funded by the World Bank.
This seminar titled “Does the Media Care?” was a dialogue on the coverage of social issues in the media and was another step in the direction.

Among the other panelists were Usha Rai, the first woman journalist of Delhi and a recipient of the Chameli Devi Award, Nilanjana Bose, a Ramnath Goenka awardee and Senior Special Correspondent of CNN IBN, PN Vasanti, Director of CMS (Centre of Media Studies), Rohit Gandhi a TV journalist of the Canadian Broadcasting and Dex TV in Canada and Thomas Chandi, CEO of Save the Children in India, the World’s largest independent Child Rights organization.

The debate highlighted some serious issues plaguing the Indian media today.

Tarun Tejpal who has a 24-year experience in the profession recalled the earlier times when almost every news channel had a rural reporter. “Today, the total coverage that the 250 million Dalits and tribes in India get is less than the share given to actress Kareena Kapoor alone”, he lamented.

Rohit Gandhi described the media’s obsession as one of “celebrity gazing and crime chasing” while PN Vasanti showed some statistics of news coverage tapped by the CMS. The discussion highlighted one central point – how journalism in this country had become entirely commercial and market driven.

The second session debated why there aren’t more stories about health, science and environment in the Indian Media. The key note address was delivered by veteran journalist and author Prem Shankar Jha. He began by referring to the Bengal famine of 1942. The point that the seasoned journalist brought out was the importance of follow ups in journalism. Paranjoy Guha, a documentary film maker and editor of “Realpolitic”, moderated the debate in his usual flamboyant style that sent instant energy waves through the air.

Film critique Ziya Us Salam who is a senior Assistant Editor in The Hindu, referred to the widening gap between rural Bharat and urban India perpetuated by the media. He pointed out how the Lakhme India Fashion Week had four journalists from one news channel for the coverage of the event while it did not affect the life of any one citizen. “The same time farmers in Vidharba committed suicide due to abysmal poverty”, he poignantly recalled.

Saeed Naqvi, one of the most successful and prominent journalists of India and a columnist of The Indian Express called the entire TRP game a façade, aimed to sabotage the real big issues. His frustration with the Indian media was evident in his reference to the present generation of reporters as ‘the lost generation”.

Aspiring journalists from the university and other eminent guests interacted energetically with the panelists. The speakers concluded that a good story teller could tell the most mundane of things in an interesting way and that was the essential quality for the journalists while reporting on any social issue. The counsel was a good one to take home for the aspiring journalists.