ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Indian Media's Anna Moment

Is the media's job to support or to report?

The cameras have been switched off. The microphones havefallen silent. But the cacophony generated by the saturation media coverage accorded to the agitation led by Anna Hazare for a Jan Lokpal Bill continues to ricochet. Questions are being asked, as well they should, not just about the extent of media coverage, especially by the electronic media, but on the content of the coverage. Given the profuse expressions of appreciation by the Anna Hazare group at the end of the protests to the media for its “support”, a key question that the media needs to ask is whether its role in such a situation is to support or to report. By becoming participants in this particular campaign against corruption, has the electronic media forfeited any semblance of professionalism that had survived previous occasions where it had gone overboard? Or will it take the time to pause now and analyse why it decided that the saturation coverage of the campaign, at the cost of scores of other important news developments across India, was justified?

From the coverage of the April fast by Anna Hazare at Jantar Mantar, where television anchors were waxing eloquent about how this was India’s Tahrir Square, to August when a leading anchor announced that this was “an inflexion point” in India’s history, it was apparent that the electronic media had bought into the protest, setting aside scepticism or distance essential in the interests of accuracy and balance. The story had been reduced to good and evil – with “civil society” of the Anna brand as good and the government as evil. Even if one argues that some of the coverage was justified, particularly after Hazare’s arrest and the drama of his release that followed, when and how did the media decide to accord the protests non-stop uncritical coverage? One reason could be that the response in April to the fast had alerted news media that this was a story their largely middle class urban viewers would follow. Television revenue is based on viewership. Over the two weeks in August that all news channels, with the exception of Doordarshan, focused exclusively on Ramlila Maidan, news viewership increased while that of sports as well as Hindi movies dropped.

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