News as trivial pursuit

We have been rising to majestic heights in our indignation over the proposed Broadcast Bill. Control us? The mature, responsible, credible Indian media? Curtail our freedom? Nonsense! And then we are outed by the police. A fake 'sting operation' by Live India (née Janmat) TV 'exposed' Delhi schoolteacher Uma Khurana supplying schoolgirls for prostitution. A lynch mob attacked Uma and the police clapped her in jail. The drama was dutifully recorded by the media. Uma was swiftly sacked. A week later, we hear that she had been framed.

How shocking, said the media, but it's an exception. We still don't need your content code, thanks, we know what's best. Keep your blipping Broadcast Bill away from us.

However, voluntary self-regulation is tricky. Maybe the Press Council of India should be expanded to include TV and radio and given some teeth - dentures would do - to effectively regulate the media. For as a mortified media professional I have to admit that this scam is not an isolated example of the media's bad behaviour. Our determined move from news as information to news as entertainment has blurred both our vision and the once inviolable line between reality and drama. Now we offer gossip, titillation, trivia and unreal aspirations as news, brushing aside boring issues of social concern, trampling sensitivities, infringing privacy, tossing aside ethics and humanity in our effort to be the hottest honey-trap available.

Media as a trivial pursuit erodes public trust


Take some big stories of the recent past: Uma is framed, ex-model Gitanjali is re-discovered as a beggar, athlete Santhi Sounderajan apparently attempts suicide, freed Sanjay Dutt goes to Vaishno Devi, freed Salman Khan goes home, and MPs and journalists continue to pick bones with Ronen Sen's 'headless chicken'. Meanwhile, floods claim almost 700 lives and affect millions in Bihar, and displace over 70 lakh in Assam; farmers continue to kill themselves in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. We gave them short, customary coverage like brief, dutiful visits to elderly aunts, and returned quickly to our riveting game of trivial pursuits.

Unfortunately, the freedoms we enjoy are for our role in educating and informing our audience, for helping them make informed choices that sustain democracy. Media as a trivial pursuit erodes public trust.

We urgently need self-regulation by a representative body like the Press Council to get back to being a responsible and ethical media


And Live India's scam is not even journalism, it is a criminal act of misrepresentation, using media as a weapon for personal vendetta, fabricating footage to wilfully defame and destroy a victim and incite violence. It doesn't merit another debate on sting operations, this was not one. It needs to be dealt with as a crime.

But the other examples represent bad journalism. Former model Geetanjali Nagpal is spotted begging in Delhi. Instantly, she is headline news, portrayed as a drug addict. The media rips the last vestige of dignity off the unfortunate woman, invading her privacy, sensationalising, offering details of her private life, presenting speculation as fact. She turns out to be mentally ill, not an addict. We cannot look beyond gossip value, cannot discuss larger issues of mental health, social security or homelessness. (We have an estimated 18 million street kids, plus possibly as many adults as street dwellers, but they aren't sexy enough.)

Santhi Sounderajan's attempted suicide is gossip, too. Headlined as 'Tainted athlete' or 'Sex-test failed athlete' Santhi's identity as an excellent sportsperson is erased by that of a curiosity of unspecified gender. After her failed gender test robbed her of her silver medal at the Asian Games last year, our media had shown no sensitivity. Even now, we don't go beyond the curiosity factor to look at the third sex's lack of rights and opportunities.

Ronen Sen's fowl story illustrates irresponsible journalism again. Getting your source into trouble for the sake of a delicious quote harms the atmosphere of trust and openness essential for constructive journalism. And then, larger issues of strategic partnership were obfuscated as we lost our head over a chicken. It didn't help citizens to take informed decisions on the nuclear issue. Such frivolous frenzy reduces democratic decision-making to taking sides based on ignorance and muscle-flexing. Besides, it showed an embarrassing ignorance of English idiom. 'Running around like a headless chicken' means thoughtless rushing about; it doesn't imply you're a chicken. Like 'as cool as a cucumber' doesn't accuse you of being a cucumber.

Leading you through an exciting maze of trivia and gossip, the media confuses your priorities. So when a lowly constable hugs Sanjay Dutt he is instantly suspended, but no action is initiated against the policemen and politicians accused in the Bombay riots even after 14 years.

We are losing our grip. We urgently need self-regulation by a representative body like the Press Council to get back to being a responsible and ethical media. We cannot protect our own freedoms unless we protect the freedoms and rights of others.

(The Author is Editor, The Little Magazine. She can be reached at

This article was first published in DNA (Daily News & Analysis) on 11 September 2007.

(The views expressed here are those of the author and need not necessarily subscribe to the same)

Latest Reads
Discovery chronicles the harrowing story and extraordinary rescue of the thai soccer team that is captivating the world in Operation thai cave rescue

From the moment the heartbreaking news broke that 12 young Thai soccer players and their 25-year-old coach were stuck in a cave complex near the Myanmar border

Television TV Channels Factual & Documentary
Zee Cinema to air the animated movie Smurfs - The Lost Village on Saturday, 21st July at 12pm

If you’ve watched The Smurfs and The Smurfs 2, you’re probably aware of the tiny blue creatures with white clothes and droopy hats living out their lives in blissful coexistence.

Television TV Channels Movie Channels
TLC to premiere Curvy Bride Boutique for plus size brides

TLC, India’s go to lifestyle channel, is all set to premiere the most popular and talked about UK based show Curvy Bride Boutique from 16th July at 10 PM.

Television TV Channels Factual & Documentary
India’s leading New Age News Brand set to take Television by storm

New-age digital brand is about to take the television screens by storm.

Television TV Channels News Broadcasting
FIFA legal action against BeoutQ for WC piracy

MUMBAI: FIFA will be taking legal action against Saudi Arabia-based BeoutQ, a pirated TV service operating in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), which continues its illegal piracy of 2018 FIFA World Cup broadcasts, according to an official statement, carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA)....

Television TV Channels Sports
Viacom18 launches Colors Tamil HD in Singapore on Star Hub

After entering the Tamil GEC market, Viacom18, one of India’s largest entertainment conglomerates, has launched Colors Tamil HD on Star Hub, (channel no. 132) in Singapore.

Television TV Channels GECs
Zee Café, BBC Worldwide launch second season of premium British dramas

Zee Cafe has partnered with BBC Worldwide to once again entertain Indian audiences with premium British dramas.

Television TV Channels English Entertainment
Zee Tamil’s Sembaruthi completes 200 episodes!

Leading Tamil General Entertainment Channel (GEC) – Zee Tamil has been at the forefront of quality content across genres that caters to the diverse entertainment needs of Tamil audiences across the world.

Television TV Channels Regional
Zee Telugu Announces World Television Premiere of Sai Pallavi and Naga Shaurya Starrer Kanam

Weekend plans just got better with Zee Telugu’s horror World Television Premiere, Kanam, to your home screens on Sunday! From the Abhinetri-famed director A L Vijay, Kanam is a supernatural tale which blends elements of revenge and horror to give the audiences a spine-chilling experience. The film...

Television TV Channels Regional

Latest News

Load More

Sign up for our Newsletter

subscribe for latest stories