Thursday, December 4

A non-profit news media industry?

Since the Nov. 26 attacks in Mumbai I, like many others, have been flooded with emails of petitions, protests, need to take action and the like. The bottom-line being enough is enough. While it is good to see such outrage and demand for action from people within and outside India, I am not very hopeful about what will actually come out of it.

A lot of anger has been directed at the Indian media, and its insensitivity in handling the attacks. One email that particularly struck me said that the Indian media should be turned into a non-profit industry. In the words of the author of the email, "...that at least news media should be compulsorily made non-profit and if they do report any profits, all of these should be donated to some orphanage or old age home or something of that sort." The rationale being that the current sensationalizing and TRP greed is due to the inherent profit-making nature of the industry, and if they are turned into a non-profit industry it would bring in accountability.

I have heard only few a more ridiculous argument before. For one, just because an organization is non-profit does mean it is responsible, accountable or sensitive. In fact, I would argue that taking away profit would take away any incentive the media has to improve its standards. Not to mention that after years of being one of the most financially deprived workforce, we are finally seeing journalists making some money. With the amount of work that goes in, they deserve to.

Secondly, were it not for the (outrageous) reporting, I doubt how many of those "coming together and joining hands" would have been motivated to do it. India has been under constant terrorist attacks from Pakistan for decades now. No one got so worked up about them before. A few murmurs here and there, and things were back to routine. I believe the constant images of destruction and terror, the 24 hour updates of deaths and fear impacted us differently. It made a difference in how we looked at it, how we felt about it, what we thought we should do about it.

While the Indian media needs to get its act together and set some standards, it is irresponsible to demands things like turning it into a non-profit, and asking the Information Ministry to dictate terms to it. India is a democracy, a free country with the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, and the government is not supposed to be dictating terms. They can ask them to display better sensitivity, criticise, issue temporary ordinances for security reasons, but not dictate. The right of expression was curtailed during the Emergency, and I don't believe anyone wants a repeat of those years. They weren't exactly the best years for Indian democracy.

The said email also made another request. "Also do forward this to people you think would agree and do something. Please do not forward to those you do not expect to react, like we need people to." The less said about this, the better.

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