Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why Our Media is a Laughing Stock (and Rightly So?)

Here is a post I made recently on the current state of affairs in Malayalam media scene:

I WAS watching with a bit of discomfort the kind of media criticism going around, which is basically accusatory and counter-productive. Criticism is welcome, but criticism that is insincere and that comes in the form of sweeping generalisations like syndicate, conspiracy, etc, are done with an eye to curry favour with some corners in the ruling establishment. I have no patience with such conspiracy-mongers, whether they are politicians or cultural figures, and I know that anyone familiar with how media functions would know such a vast conspiracy network is simply impossible in the competitive media; neither in Kerala nor elsewhere.

Then why such repeated accusations and how they are accepted, at least by a section of our people, as true?

I think one of the reasons could be the lack of a self-critical approach on the part of the media itself, its arbitrary nature and its lack of professionalism. Media persons generally do not listen much to outside criticism, and they are not keen to own up mistakes and offer corrections. For a variety of reasons. They have not much time to listen and reply, they are not public figures to vigilantly keep a clean image, and often they do not understand the need for keeping such a continuous and difficult debate going with the world at large. And may be they have a self-image that is moulded in the 19th century idiom, as even today we speak of people like Swadeshabhimani Ramakrishna Pillai as our icon instead of asking whether we do need to look elsewhere for better models.

Changing ideas and habits is difficult. Exactly ten years ago, as I was president of the Kozhikode Press Club, we were having a heated debate on why do we need to build a modern professional media training centre in the press club. The question raised was, since we are a class of employees in an industry, it is for the managements to train and make use of the staff. Why an employees' union should bother about it? I still remember a colleague in Mathrubhumi who asked me why did I work for the managements.

I had to explain that the world is changing and technology is changing. We are becoming obsolete and if we do not equip ourselves we would be thrown out. Now ask anyone in the media circles around and they will tell you mass retrenchment has become part of our industry, and hundreds of people have lost jobs. If you are interested, read the general secretary's report in this issue of Pathrapravarthakan, KUWJ journal, which gives details about the ongoing cases and the grimness of the situation.

So you cannot isolate the gloomy media atmosphere and put all blame on a coterie who are syndicated or conspiratorial. The cynical mood in the media scene, the negative attitude of media persons, the poverty of intellect, are part of a gloomy society, it reflects the gloominess all around us.

But we do need to try to change this and bring some optimism to this profession. One of the reasons why I give much importance to stories like KGK's (who writes about the better days in journalism) is to drive away this mood of self-flagellation and cynicism. Such stories could help us recover our self-esteem and restore our past and legacy to us.

In my own paper, I tried to train our youngsters in media ethics and offered them a series of classes. They were all young people and it helped quite a lot. In fact I used the Media Ethics Guidebook of New York Times (available at their site, a very wonderful guide indeed) to tell them how to go about in professional life, how to behave and how to respond to criticism and all that...

But you know three years down the road, I see that almost 70-80 per cent of my original staff have left me. Poor pay and hard work do not help retain the staff, howsoever committed they might be. Now we will have to rebuild all that from the scratch, reminding me of the boatman's frantic efforts to keep it afloat even as water rushed inside through the hole below.

Well, not a very happy scenario. But what could we do but to keep our faith?

No comments: