New Delhi: The past week saw the media not just reporting news, but making it as well. It started with the incessant media focus on the Richard Gere-Shilpa Shetty kiss at an AIDS awareness event. The moral police was soon up in arms. Then came the terrible attack on the Mumbai office of TV news channel Star by activists belonging to one ‘Hindu Rashtriya Sena’.
The rowdy protestors crashed vehicles at the news channels’ office while agitating against a story aired by the channel of the inter-religious marriage of a Surat-based Hindu-Muslim couple.
Finally, the week came to an end with the hour-to-hour carpet coverage of the shaadi of the year—the Abhishek-Aishwarya wedding.
From full-fledged reporting on kisses to something as trivial as a wedding—is the media getting its priorities wrong or is it simply trying telling a good ‘sellable’ story.
The issue was debated on CNN-IBN The Big News by Editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai and Outlook Editor-in-Chief Vinod Mehta.
Does the media reports or creates news?
“I don’t think media has the power to create news,” said Mehta. “All we can do is give momentum to a story and provide it the oxygen of publicity. However, by non-stop coverage, it sends a completely wrong message. All that we are doing is bringing a subject to the public eye while people start thinking we are the ones creating the entire story,” he said.
It is indeed true that media mileage many a times takes the zest out of a news story. TV channels often stretch a debate for so long, that it becomes tedious, and repetitive for the viewers. It not just kills the ‘newsiness’ of an issue but also makes it appear trivial, said Mehta.
“The problem with most news channels these days is: that they don’t know when to stop. Once we start covering a subject, we just go on and on and on,” he added.
“We provide the oxygen of publicity to a subject and sometimes bring in things which are perhaps of no interest to the viewers. The main event gets embellished with so many side-issues that it results in complete distortion of the original story,” he concluded.
Shilpa Shetty-Richard Gere Kiss and the media hype
Some say that the focus was on the kiss. While others feel it is the disproportionate focus that troubled viewers and not so much the kiss really.
A foreign actors “obnoxiously open and offensive” kissing-act with an Indian actress was certainly an event that deserved attention in the Indian context. To many it came as culture shock. However, the media while covering it should have exercised restraint, to try not to make it appear sensational.
“I think it would have been abdication of responsibility had we not covered the story. Whether we like it or not, the Gere-Shilpa story has a certain element of news value in it. So, we must cover it. However, we must exercise restraint. That’s where editors’ intelligence comes into picture. You cant let the cameras let loose on a story. You must know when to switch them off,” said Mehta.
Star TV’s office gets attacked over airing a story
An irate mob belonging to a little known organisation called Hindu Rashtriya Sena ransacked the Star TV office in Mumbai smashing cars parked outside the office and also damaging the office itself. The motive: anger over a programme showing a Muslim youth and a Hindu minor girl who had eloped.
Is there a sense of worry that in a way media is letting itself be taken as a hostage? “Yes,” said Mehta. “Who had heard about such organisations such as Hindu Rashtra Sena or something like that before? The attack was deplorable. And yet it gave the Hindu Rashtra Sena an identity and a name,” he said.
It’s indeed ironic that the couple ran in to the TV station for protection rather than going to a police station. People are choosing TV station instead of a police stations for expressing their concerns and demanding justice.
“This should worry us that the star TV office became the sanctuary of this couple. Why should a TV office become a police station? That is certainly unacceptable. We are actually feeding certain publicity-craving segments of the society. A 24 hour news channel or even a newspaper or a magazine provides them just the kind if mileage that they need,” said Mehta.
It is worth noting here that on February 9, 2006, a mob of over 100 Shiv Sainiks, raising slogans of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, had pelted stones at a Zee News office and had ransacked the property in protest against the telecast of a play on Zee Alpha Marathi channel.
Ash Abhishek trivia—from page three to page one
The Ash-Abhishek wedding coverage drew a response that perhaps the media covered it too much. All the trivia was covered on page one, splashed all over the headlines while it was an event that would have otherwise looked good in the Friday supplement or perhaps the more-apt ‘Page three’.
Mehta agreeing with the view said that the event could have been reported in a little more intelligent manner than it was.
“We cannot deny that marriage of the biggest actor and the biggest actress of the Indian cinema is certainly news. You must be crazy as an editor if you did not cover this,” he said.
However, “instead of reporting how a bandwalah is entering the Bachchan house, the media persons could have simply talked about the overtly guarded manner in which the ceremony was taking place,” he added.
Mehta said that Ash-Abhishek marriage is “big news” and there would be an element of snobbery if someone says we “shouldn’t cover this.” There is huge public interest that goes into such subjects. “But again, if some 200-300 media-persons are gathered at a place and they are getting frequent calls from their editors to get some news on the event, they should rather show the closed gates of Prateeksha and finish off rather than speculating about the trivial wedding preparations inside.
But should an Ash-Abhishek story deserve to be on the cover page of a national daily?
“It would be on our glitterati page,” said the Outlook editor. “We will use a wonderful picture but we wouldn’t provide the oxygen of publicity on such high scale. It is all a matter of scale and its all a matter of good editors. Because only a good editor can tell you ‘enough, now stop’.”
Mehta said that such a story has to be run in a light-hearted manner. “Two actors getting married is a nice story but there are other things happening in the world, in India. There shouldn’t be disproportionate coverage. The coverage should be solemn and earnest,” he added.