Time for Kerala media to introspect
By Sanu George, Thiruvananthapuram, Feb 16 : Even as the three pillars of democracy -- legislature, executive and judiciary -- come under routine scrutiny and churning, the fourth estate in Kerala, however, has few occasions to look inward and retrospect.
In the country's most literate state, there are frequent complaints of laxity in the media, of falling standards. With television growing in leaps and bounds, there is a proliferation of sources of information and entertainment. The rigour of reporting and depth of analysis have however eroded.
The thumb rule remains that age old adage: "The early bird catches the worm."
As the size of the media industry swells, there is also greater concern for bottom lines.
There was a time when the newspapers in the state could be counted on the fingers of one hand; no more so. The finer aspects of journalism have taken a back seat, as the number of journalists has grown.
There are now four national English newspapers with local editions here; more than a dozen Malayalam newspapers vie for readership, and there is also a phenomenal growth in the number of television channels. Close to a dozen TV channels engage in stiff competition to grab eyeballs.
The advertisement pie, the major revenue source for the media, has unfortunately not grown in tandem with the growth in the media industry.
As across the country, the print media is forced to take a back seat because erstwhile readers are now mostly viewers, getting all their news reports from TV rather than the morning newspaper.
There is 'breaking news', 'exclusives' and the so called 'impact' of the earlier 'breaking' or 'exclusive' news, running in loops through the day. Critics point out that the fundamentals of journalism have been ignored, as TV journalists engage in fierce competition.
Only recently, a TV channel aired a private conversation of a retired judge in a controversial case, raising a hornet's nest.
While the matter then provided fodder for the Left opposition's attack, there was surprisingly little comment on the propriety of airing a private opinion, and the culpability of the media in such instances.
There are debates galore on TV - the Malayalee is known to be loquacious. The debates however appear a little skewed, as a news item could find the time dedicated to it to be disproportionate to its importance; or an item of public interest might get little attention.
Invited guests sometimes have to hammer their point home, as anchors rush to silence them with the mandatory commercial break or warning of time constraints. Guests who differ with the anchor may be taken off the air quickly, or barraged with loaded questions.
The anchor has the last word, silencing the whole debate with the plea that time has just run out.
Politicians across different parties complain that TV channels routinely edit their speeches to make them rather more 'juicy'. Controversy rules. TV footage thus serves up more heat than light on any issue.
As the electronic media steals the thunder from print media, newspapers too are learning a new set of tricks.
There are now more exhaustive reports and greater attention to news analyses. Newspaper editors function with the certainty that the readership need not be informed through the newspaper, as TV and internet have already performed that task by the time the newspaper arrives in the morning.
Newspapers in the state thus lay greater emphasis on news from the smaller towns, and display large, attractive pictures.
Most newspapers also have a daily special supplement with city news, richly illustrated. News reports are written lucidly, jocularly and with empathy.
Readers have been taking to the social media to express their opinions on the media in the state, and many of the opinions expressed are far from being positive.
As the situation appears to be one of flux with little reason to think much change will happen in the near future, there is need for introspection. While being fast with the news, it is important for the media to also reflect what is accurate, without being sensationalist.
Kerala has a mature readership accustomed to in-depth analysis. Without much-needed introspection, there is likelihood that the credibility of the whole industry will take a drubbing, from which it would be hard to recover.
(Sanu George is Kerala correspondent of IANS. The views expressed here are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)