Has bad taste swamped TV news?

BY IANS| IN Media Practice | 30/12/2004
Do these incidents signify the death of privacy and the triumph of bad taste?




Indo-Asian News Service



New Delhi, Dec 29 (IANS) Have some sections of the media, especially the electronic media, spun out of control in their quest for sensation and big banner news?


Two radically different recent episodes -- the much-hyped MMS scandal involving two school students engaged in sexual activity and the late prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao`s charred body being broadcast live by some TV channels - have put the spotlight firmly on the increasingly intrusive behaviour of the media.


Do these incidents signify the death of privacy and the triumph of bad taste? 


Senior journalist and columnist Saeed Naqvi told IANS: "Showing Rao`s charred body was simply bad taste. It was uncultured. To think of it makes one`s stomach turn. It was a sacrilege."


Says S. Nihal Singh, former editor of The Statesman and Khaleej Times: "In Rao`s case it was sheer bad taste. The MMS case was a question of public morality. Maybe the media overplayed the story, but they were right in bringing the issue to public notice."


This is a gross violation of the unwritten media code that is being followed religiously by the media in the West, say many media watchers and ordinary viewers who feel outraged by the media intrusion into some very private domain in people`s lives.


Take the case of the 9/11 attacks on WTC and Pentagon that killed close to 3,000 people in the US where, in an otherwise no holds barred media as far coverage of public figures and society go, none of the TV channels showed the dead being buried or journalists intruding into private sorrows of survivors.


This professional restraint stands out in stark contrast to the insensitivity in showing Rao`s charred body on the small screen.


Says  Naqvi, "The news culture has radically changed. When I entered the profession, to have dead body on the front page was bad taste. But now the trend is to go in for shock-and-awe news powered by the naked pursuit of TRP. The electronic media in India is still in its infancy and has no traditions."


Press Council of India`s chairman, Justice K.J. Reddy, sounded resigned in the face of this tasteless journalism. He said: "We have no control over electronic medium. It`s for the press to use its freedom judiciously. Mediamen must act like philosophers."  


Sham Lal, nonagenarian journalist and former editor of The Times of India who has seen generational changes in the media, links the current "tabloidisation phase" to a larger cultural critique of the market. "The media has become market-driven and seeks sensation. News is being commodified." 


Nihal Singh exhorts the media to delve deeper into its collective soul.  "It`s a question of peer judgment. We don`t want to be policed by the government; that`s why the media should evolve a better system of highlighting these issues related to privacy."


Naqvi sees the ordinary viewer/reader as the redeemer: "There ought to be some legislation on what to show and what not to show on TV. But what can make a real difference is a consumer movement of sorts that can act as a pressure group."


Veteran journalist and former Press Institute of India director Ajit Bhattacharjee is slightly sceptical about this "paparazzi culture" changing. "It`s a question of judgment. There is nothing one can do about it. Self-regulation is the only answer."


--Indo-Asian News Service







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