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Let’s differentiate ‘News Channels’ from ‘Views Channels’ to save real journalism: TV9 Karnataka & News9 director Mahendra Mishra

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That there is a political-promoter-news channel nexus in the South of India is something that we have been aware for quite sometime. In all the four states-Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala - hardly a day goes by without the politician promoters using her/his media vehicle as a mouthpiece. After money and muscle, it’s media’s turn across South for politicos who seem to have gained mastery over the game. For them, the news channel appears to be the strongest weapon to run the political business.

Now the big question is what happens to the sanctity of news if politicians convert the newsroom into their party office as we come across quite often…

The words that define news are - independent, unbiased and factual. Clearly these words don’t reflect the character of these ‘news channels’.

As a news channel, we are supposed to be the ‘conscience-keeper’ of the society. Also, we are the pillar on which the democracy rests. Aren’t we going to do just the opposite by adulterating ‘news’ with our personal agenda?

We tend to believe that aam aadmi is intelligent enough to understand the design behind such attempts, but what we forget is that it’s the same aam aadmi that is spending time to consume (if not digest) the ‘adulterated’ news content being put out by these channels.

It eventually leads to the dilution of the ‘real’ news consumption which sounds demoralising for the journalistically-driven news channels. It’s surely not a healthy sign for the growth of Indian news television, especially in the regional space.

Secondly, these ‘adulterated’ news channels spoil the fearless, uncompromising and unyielding breed of journalists who are out there to make a real difference. Once you have worked with one of these news channels, it’s highly unlikely that your journalistic fire will still be alive.

Essentially, these ‘views’ channels thrive on the propaganda, leading to a nearly deoxygenated journalistic environment. How do we expect fearless journalism to flourish in such a debilitating ambience? It’s a serious challenge we are going to face in the years to come.

To top that, since these channels hardly command ‘sizeable’ viewership in their respective markets, they resort to underselling the channel. It means that real ‘news’ channels are also under pressure to sell the ‘air-time’ at comparable rates. This is the reason why most of the regional ‘views’ channels are bleeding badly across south today, but in the process, they have ensured that the real ‘news’ channels also suffer.

Another important point is that the national television content regulators like News Broadcasters Association can’t really monitor the newscasts of these channels as most of them have deliberately stay away from being part of any such regulator. It poses serious risk for the audiences who may easily fall prey to their ‘luring’ tactics.

Generally speaking, south India has around 20 news channels-directly/indirectly promoted by politicians, mostly in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka while there are just a few which can be classified under the non-political and unbiased category.

As TAM data suggests, the viewership share of regional news channels has grown by 15-20 per cent in south India in 2011, unlike other genres, as compared to the previous year and interestingly, this trend looks to continue in the years to come. The striking point here is that most of the growth has come from the political news channels being launched/or running across all languages in south.

Is it clean, pure journalism that is driving this growth in South India? The answer is a straight ‘NO’. Then, can we call it a positive trend?

Take Karnataka for instance. The state saw three major launches of political news channels-Janashri (Janardhan Reddy), Samaya 24/7(Karnataka’s Industries Minister Murugesh Nirani with Ex-CM B S Yeddyurappa’s backing) and Kasthuri Newz 24(H D Kumaraswamy).These channels put together have grown to occupy around 20 per cent of the total news viewership in Karnataka in 2011.

I don’t see any reason why these channels shouldn’t exist or grow.These channels have as much right to telecast or show what they want as anyone else. But I believe that it’s unfair to call them a ‘news channel.’ My contention is why should a ‘views channel’ be allowed to run in the garb of a ‘news channel’.

Let’s create another category for such channels and spare people getting confused with ‘news channels’. Let there be a different mechanism to handle this category. The idea is to ensure that people must not be fed ‘views’ in the form of ‘news’. Let’s not fake things. Let’s grow up and accept the facts as they are.

I think 2011 will be seen as a year when these ‘views’ channels threatened to adulterate ‘news’ beyond recognition. And it went almost unnoticed. It’s high time that the country, especially south wakes up to the underlying risks of ‘adulterated’ journalism. This is going to be the biggest test for the ‘real’ news channels in the years to come. If the sancity of the news has to be restored, this battle has to be won. That’s the only way out...

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