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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2765

Tabloidisation of Indian Media

While quite a lot of youth were too scared to become subscribers of tabloids not too long ago for fear of incurring family disapproval, it is the adults now who look the other way when they see the ‘page three’ supplements in newspapers, says the author and wonders what happened to the news sense of the print and electronic media

The thoughts about the ways of today’s brand of journalism bring to mind the bad old days of Indian journalism, not many years ago, when there was no electronic media, or television, to give competition to the print media. The competition did exist though and it came from the tabloids, some of them denounced as yellow rags and sensation mongers even though they commanded more circulation than many daily newspapers. What distinguished the tabloid from the broadsheets was not just the selection of the contents but the manner of presentation of stories.

The print media was full of ‘quality’ and ‘national’ dailies where reporters were discouraged to make their output more palatable with a liberal sprinkling of colourful dressing or even salt and pepper. It was almost mandatory for the intro of most stories to have that catch phrase, ‘….said here today.’ No question of using words and phrases that could be construed as ornamental or pedantic. It was pretty staid stuff but perhaps most readers accepted it because it served the purpose of informing them about an event in simple and straightforward manner, without any frills.

The tabloids, as could be expected, were liberal with their imagination, did not hesitate to make insinuations, used plenty of ‘spice’ and even clever turn of phrases, not to mention naughty photographs that offended the prudes; the ingredients that were thought to attract readers and vet all kinds of curiosities. Quite a lot of readership of the tabloids consisted of the youth who would be too scared to become subscribers for fear of family disapproval but would avidly buy and read the journals outside their homes—away from the elders.

In the 21st century, it is the adults who look the other way when they see the ‘page three’ supplements in newspapers and wonder what happened to the news sense of the electronic media when bulletin after bulletin the focus refuses to shift from a single story or individual.

Consider the coverage to Pramod Mahajan, the BJP general secretary, who was shot at point blank range by his younger brother Pravin in Mumbai. It was an important media event, no doubt. But with all the respect and sympathy that one can muster for Mahajan, it has to be said that the media went overboard with the story.

After a day or two of the shooting tragedy the media was also reporting about the inconvenience caused to the relatives and patients admitted to the same hospital where Majahan was because of the unending lines of visitors, including VIPs. What the media forgot was that part of the problem for the relatives and the patients was caused by the media itself, which had laid siege to the hospital and its approach.

But then the media was only following a trend that it has set lately of keeping its focus glued for days on important public figures whenever they hit the headlines either due to a tragedy or when they attract controversy. It is not just the political figures who merit magnified attention but film and sports stars as also the ‘page three’ crowd of ‘socialites’, models and others.

Most people still recall how ‘generous’ the media was in devoting its space and time to the illness and treatment of megastar Amitabh Bachhan or the operation carried out on the cricketing icon Sachin Tendulkar. If it does not sound crude, dare one speculate if Jessica Lal and her family members would have received the kind of attention they did in the media had the former model not been fatally shot by a VIP’s son in a Delhi restaurant usually frequented by the rich and the famous.

Mention of Tendulkar’s name brings to mind another famous and a fairly competent cricketer: Saurav Ganguli, who was one of the more successful captains of the Indian team. When his name did not figure in the list of the Indian team, the press was witness to a very long debate about the way he was treated or mistreated by the selectors. This debate took the expected turn of becoming an issue of Bengal’s pride.

To those less familiar with the intricacies or intrigues of Indian cricket administration it did appear that the media had overplayed the Ganguli issue. If he was ‘dropped’, the Indian team did not seem to miss him much, going by the team’s performance. Yet, the debate about Ganguli continues even today. Of course, one can sympathise with Ganguli because by the present day standards he is still young enough to continue playing international matches. Indian selectors are not likely to heed what the press says.

The authorities do seem to have woken up to some of the ills in the legal system that surfaced thanks to the near saturation media coverage of the Jessica Lal murder case. Indeed, poor Jessica did something good for some other victims of the ire or lust of influential and moneyed persons. The police may be forced to take notice of complaints from the families of victims more seriously than they ever did before, though it still does not mean that they will pursue the prosecution case with the kind of honesty expected of them. However, there is a talk that the government might bring a legislation that makes it difficult for key witnesses to turn hostile.

And thanks to the extensive media coverage given to the Best Bakery case, relating to the burning of Muslims in Vadodara during the Gujarat riots, it is likely that laws against perjury may be made more stringent. It could not have been a media design that the protracted coverage of the Best Bakery case would lead to several strange twists and turns in the lives of one of the prime witnesses, Zahira Sheikh. From a poor and nearly orphaned young girl she shot into fame that spread beyond India, acquired riches she could not have imagined, and now it appears she is about to see much of that disappear with the additional ignominy of a jail sentence.

- Syndicate Features -

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