There has been saturation coverage by television channels of Anna Hazare's fast reporting every twist and turn in the protest saga 24x7 for the last about two weeks. But has it been critical and unbiased or one-sided in approval?
By and large, media experts feel that television coverage was biased in favour of the 74-year-old activist, uncritical in its sweep and adulatory sometimes.
There was a lone voice of support for news television channels from noted journalist and Editor and Managing Director of Pioneer newspaper Chandan Mitra, who feels it was not the case.
"By its very nature, television is a very biased medium. Whenever a big issue or a campaign like this crops up, news channels try to be on top of it. This is the trend that prevails everywhere," says Bhaskar Rao, director, Centre for Media Studies.
"But unfortunately in the Anna Hazare case, I think TV channels have overdone it," Rao told PTI.
The main issue here is corruption, which is the elephant, but the media has given extensive publicity to "the elephant riders, which is Anna Hazare and his team", he said.
Concurs noted television commentator Karan Thapar, who says the media, especially the television, appeared to be siding with the Anna campaign and not fully representing the viewpoints of the government.
"They (TV channels) have been less than comprehensive in exploring the divisions or contradictions in Anna's side. They did not expose several of Anna's demands which may create serious constitutional problems," he said.
Echoing similar views, Vinod Mehta, Editor-in-Chief of Outlook magazine, said, "I think the electronic media was just carried away by the populist mood and failed to be critical on some aspects of team Anna as it has been on the government."
"The team Anna played several tricks, including using the life of the Gandhian (Hazare) for some sort of leverage. The media should have revealed and discussed those to make their coverage a balanced one," Mehta said.
"There have been a lot of debates on how the government mishandled the whole issue, but hardly there was any such discussion to expose the weak points of the Anna campaign."
According to Thapar, what the media did do was to project the deep national concern over corruption.
"It reflected the anger and frustration of the people. But in terms of critical, objective and balanced coverage, it gave the impression of siding with Anna and of not fully representing the view points of the government."
On whether the media has been able to uphold journalistic ethics while covering the issue, the experts said they feel the media was not at their best.
"When it becomes a competition for TRP, ethics hardly comes into play," says Rao.
Thapar believes, "it seems the media has undermined the ethics a bit while trying to reflect the national mood, which they also have helped create and enhance."
"One role the media played was to ventilate public opinion, but in doing so they also played the role of encouraging and of siding with it, which is wrong," he said.
"There is a lot of introspection the media has to do on what and how they have to cover a big issue," Mehta added.
Mitra, however, has a different take on this. "I think the media has to reflect what the public mood is. Some excesses could have happened here and there, but I would not blame the newspapers or TV for that. I think the media did a good job in the entire thing," he said.
According to the experts, the news channels behaved as if they were caught up with just one story and ignored, or under reported, all other important events happening in the country and worldwide.
"They seem to have been so obsessed with this Anna episode that they almost ignored other important news, the Libyan conflict, for instance," Thapar pointed out.
"Covering basic issues are more important. Dissemination of information about other events is also important," Rao said.
This obsession with Anna campaign drew flak from politicians as could be seen from the attack MPs launched on the media coverage during the debate on Jan Lokpal Bill in Parliament yesterday.
Taking a dig at the news channels, JD-U leader Sharad Yadav said, "is dibbe se bahut dikkat hai (This idiot box gives a lot of trouble)."
He felt that news channels seriously believed they were running the country through debates but told them that it was Parliament that was entrusted with the affairs of the nation.
In his speech, DMK MP T K S Elangovam said that media had turned Hazare's crusade against corruption into a fight against the Constitution.
"It began as a fight against corruption and media made it a fight against the government, then Parliament, and now it appears to be a fight against the Constitution," he said.
Shiv Sena's Anant Geete went a bit further and levelled the charge that "round-the-clock" coverage from the Ramlila grouds as "paid news" which is also corruption.
Rao thinks it is time the TV channels should realise and rethink their content and priority.
Saturation TV Coverage of Anna Biased: Experts
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