Journalism textbooks tell us that one of the principal roles of media is to hold mirror to the society. But we are living in the times when there is a dire need to hold mirror to media. This piece has two parts. In the first part I cite a major survey suggesting that Indian mainstream media enjoys the trust and confidence of majority of Indians despite serious concerns. In the second part, I discuss the need for more scrutiny of media and the way journalism is practiced in this part of the world.
We have been reading articles critical of Indian mainstream media and watching some conscientious anchors debate the dangers posed to journalistic principles. However, it’s perhaps pointless to count on these well argued commentaries unless these concerns are also reflected in the audience. It’s, therefore, worth finding out the attitude of Indians towards mainstream media. A survey done by American think tank Pew Research Centre in 2018 revealed that 80% of Indian respondents said their media houses were accurate while only 7% of Indians believed otherwise. This is quite unlike the United States where a substantial 43% of those surveyed said their media was not accurate or objective. The Indian news consumer’s confidence was higher than the global average. Globally, 62% of respondents trusted their news organisations to do accurate reporting.
The survey revealed one disturbing trend- India stood out as the only country among those that were polled to say that it is sometimes “acceptable for a news organisation to favour one political party”. As many as 41% of Indians said it was acceptable for news organisations to, at times, favour one political party, compared to 25% who said it is never acceptable. Compare this with the international trend. Globally, 75% of respondents said such media bias is never permissible.
As per the Pew survey, 72% of Indian respondents believe that their media was doing very well at reporting news about government leaders and officials against a global average of only 59%. As much as 65% of the respondents believed the Indian media was doing well at reporting on the different political issues fairly, against a global average of only 52%.
Indians are not the only ones to have this confidence in their media. As the Pew study points out people in sub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific are generally satisfied with their news media while Latin Americans are the most critical. However, in the Indian context where the conduct of some media outlets and anchors has been controversial to say the least, it’s worth asking: are the concerns misplaced?
In my opinion, it’s safe to assume that Indian audience’s loyalty to its media is subject to change. The survey findings will vary with time. Besides, it may also be unfair to generalize the findings of any survey. The expectations and experiences of an urban Indian news consumer will be different from the rural audience. The mainstream media tends to highlight larger issues, mostly metro centric, overlooking the problems in the countryside.
I also believe that while the average Indian may not find any problem with the media coverage right now, the role of media watchdogs like ‘Newslaundry’ and ‘The Hoot’ remains quite significant. It’s a David vs Goliath battle in which these sparsely followed media watchdogs take on the monsters with far wider reach and following.
‘Newslaundry’ is a media critique, news and current affairs portal and YouTube channel. Its mantra is simple- while independence and transparency are integral to a healthy democracy, it also applies to news media as the fourth pillar of the democracy. NL has a talented team led by the dynamic Madhu Trehan. Madhu has a vast media experience. She has been the founding editor of India Today; Editor-in- chief of Newstrack for TV Today Network and author of Tehelka as a Metaphor. The NL team believes no one is above scrutiny and certainly not the media.
Under the able guidance of its Editor Sevanti Ninan, ‘The Hoot’ has also emerged as one of the most credible voices on Indian media. ‘The Hoot’ is also dedicated to scrutiny of media. The portal is a collective effort of a group of journalists who could not turn blind eye to some of the disturbing trends in Indian media. It is an attempt to prevent bulldozing of media ethics and preserve press freedom. ‘The Hoot’ examines role and responsibility of the media focusing on issues of accuracy, fairness and censorship.
Back to the Pew Research Centre’s survey, while majority of Indians seem to be satisfied with media coverage, it also implies that there is much work to be done to expose the ugly underbelly. The work is in progress and portals like ‘Newsluandry’ and ‘The Hoot’ can serve as beacon lights in this noble endeavour.