Ashish Vaswani
‘Zaalim Saas ka atyaachar - dekhiye kuch hee palon mein’ blared the over-expressive female on Aaj Tak, as I flipped channels on a boring Sunday afternoon. It’s difficult to digest how news channels today stoop to unimaginable levels to pass off Rakhi Sawant’s swayamwar as ‘Breaking News’ and infringe on people’s privacy in the name of sting operations.

I am not a news person. Watching the daily news bulletin on TV every night was a habit my father had inculcated in me as a school kid. But with the advent of the internet and 24/7 online connectivity, the charm of watching the sari-clad news reader dole out the biggest headlines of the day was replaced by visiting various news and blog sites that offered custom made news and updates as we liked them to be. Soon, reading The Times of India from end to end was also given up for the spicier and saucier Mumbai Mirror, with zingy columns that offered more masala and gossip than news.

There are many reasons for my declining interest in the news. In the early 90s, when ‘Breaking News’ and ‘Live Feed’ were words that we heard once in a blue moon, NDTV was the only private news company that had to relay its pre-recorded bulletins on Star News. The alternating Hindi and English bulletins were a treat to watch, with the stalwarts of journalism displaying their professional best. The likes of Pranoy Roy, Barkha Dutt, Arnab Goswami and Rajdeep Sardesai infused an enigmatic fervor to news presentation that’s hard to find in the dozens of news manufacturing factories today.

With the advent of dedicated monolingual news channels specializing in local, global or business news in the late 90s, the fight for viewership and TRPs overtook the passion and zest for responsible journalism. Coming to think of recent times, full page advertisements on the front page of India’s leading dailies is nothing but a money-making proposition. I don’t know which other international papers allow such horrendous hijacking of the front page to big advertising brands, but for a common man like me, the front page of a newspaper is supposed to give me the highlights of what’s happening the world over and not be a mere publicity campaign of the latest movie that’s nearing release.

Newspapers today are churning out news at production line speeds. It’s hard to forget the scene from Page 3 where Boman Irani, the editor of a newspaper asks his colleagues to ‘create’ new celebrities and issues if they’re running short of news to cover. On TV, the latest drama of a Mumbai girl being harassed for dowry is still fresh in my mind. Though the girl and her family did manage to get justice in the end, there sure were better ways of handling a sensitive issue such as this one, rather than repeatedly playing hidden camera footage for days on end. In more than a handful of crucial cases, the media is quick to pronounce a verdict, often jumping the gun in the process.

But the picture is not as grim as it may seem. In the swarm of mass-news making channels, there are still a handful of reputed names that have managed to keep the spirit of true journalism alive. NDTV’s Nidhi Razdan is one such face that I’ve been in awe of ever since I was a kid. Her subtle handling of the biggest names in politics on Left, Right and Centre and the crisp coverage of global affairs that she brings to news presentation is a treat to watch. NDTV has managed to strike a good balance of news and infotainment with an array of shows like Gadget Guru where the suave Rajiv Makhni unravels the latest technological marvels. Times Now has also managed to carve out a niche for itself inspite of being a late entrant in the field of TV news.

At times, the media continues to play the intended watchdog role too. The Jessica Lal case, the Nithari killings and more recently, DGP Rathore’s conviction in the Ruchika Girhotra case, are instances of where the media took the lead in righting the wrong. The Right to Information Act has empowered the common man to be counted as one of the participants in scripting the formation of a new, aware and well informed India. The growing impact of Public Interest Litigations is proof of this. Successful print campaigns such as Lead India and Teach India have proved that if channelized in the right direction, the media can continue to play its formative role in society.

Armed with a little more sense of responsibility, the Indian media is sure to propel India’s growth even further and fuel its claim to be one of the global superpowers. Until then, I’ll make do with watching reruns of laughter and dance shows on news channels and catch up with micronews on Twitter!