July 04, 2020
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After reading Alok Mehta’s analysis of the dirt in the media, ‘keeping it clean’ seems impossible. But Mehta is no pessimist.

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Nib Of Issues
Indian Journalism: Keeping It Clean
By Alok Mehta
Pages: 152; Rs. 395
After reading Alok Mehta’s analysis of the dirt in the media, ‘keeping it clean’ seems impossible. The problem is not only business interests—individual journalists, who receive rewards in return for favourable reporting, are equally afflicted.

Mehta sees three overlapping sources: elitism, commercialism and corruption. Elitism is a universal ailment, for, as he points out, owners and editors come from the upper, affluent classes. This is inevitable; it takes crores to run a newspaper and even more for a TV channel. Their world is limited to events and issues affecting them. Reading the dailies and viewing the many news channels, we seldom hear of the villages and small towns where most people live. So, economic policies that benefit the rich are reinforced while the gulf between the rich and poor goes unnoticed.

TV ads widen the gulf. Since they project levels of luxury that can only create a sense of injustice and envy in most viewers, they cannot escape responsibility for increasing outbreaks of violence.

But Mehta is no pessimist. He quotes institutions that have drawn up lists of do’s and don’ts for the press. While most major papers maintain standards of propriety, newer ones tend to exaggerate, even invent, events to get into the market.

He recommends independent ombudsmen to look into charges of misreporting, with publication of their findings. Their codes on identifying sources and other steps to ensure objective coverage should be published. The visual media needs similar institutions. Unless such steps are taken, a crisis of confidence in the media may be unavoidable.

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