Saturday, 9 January 2010

TVs take yellow journalism to new heights

By Syed Akbar
Television news channels, hit hard by funds crunch, are now increasingly turning to sensationalism to stay in the race. In a bid to improve their TRP ratings and thus their revenue, some of them have gone to the extent of virtual blackmail, often holding the State to ransom. In their mad rush for cheap popularity, they have made the truth a casualty.
The so-called expose on the death of late chief minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy, telecast by some TV news channels, is nothing short of yellow journalism, to say the least. They simply picked up an unverified report published four months ago in a Russian tabloid, known for its sensationalism, and telecast it as if the investigating agencies back home
in India had unraveled the mystery behind the crash of the helicopter carrying Rajasekhar Reddy and his aides.
Worse. There was no disclaimer either. The TV channels added credence to their “exclusive reports” and “breaking news” by showing select portions of the Russian tabloid, while hiding the portions not convenient to them.
They also spread the word that someone had either blocked or hacked the website of the tabloid soon after they “broke the story” on their channels. A TV channel even started accusing the State government of “inaction” and wondered whether one should know the truth from a Russian tabloid. “Shame, shame,” it exclaimed.
The selective wording of the news reports created an impression among viewers and followers of YSR that what these TV channels had been telecasting was an “expose” and not replicating what had appeared in a Russian magazine, a couple of days after the death of YSR.
While these TV channels were improving their TRP ratings through their so-called breaking news, another TV channel, which had been in the field for quite long, started its own special bulletins to “rubbish” the Russian report.
It asked its district correspondents, who had apparently not read the Russian report, to speak on the issue. Its correspondents acted like expert commentators forgetting that they are basically reporters and not analysts. This particular TV channel quoted the Russian report out of context to tell its viewers that it was nothing but “sensation”.
As the sensationalism hotted up, the TV channels brought their own panel of experts to speak for or against the Russian report. But what these channels had forgotten was that their mindless telecast had already set the State on fire.
Yet another TV channel brought in the “regional angle” to the whole episode, wondering why attacks had been taking place against the outlets of a private company, only in Andhra and Rayalaseema regions and not in Telangana. In support of its argument, it took the bytes of some pro-Telangana activists.
This is not the first time that TV news channels have resorted to sensationalism and yellow journalism. Every small incident is blown out of proportion and clippings of violence are repeatedly telecast till they get the fresh ones. People tend to believe that these are separate incidents and not repeat of the same incident.
The classic example was the telecast of police lathicharge on unruly “students” in Osmania University. Repeated telecast of the same scene put the State government under pressure, so much so that it had to transfer a senior police official.
In fact, unhealthy competition in the Telugu electronic media started with the mushrooming of TV channels in Andhra Pradesh. The real estate boom in Hyderabad and surrounding Ranga Reddy district made several people billionaires overnight.
A few of them with questionable background invested in the electronic media to cover up their past and continue with their dubious activities. The current slump in the real estate sector has forced them to find alternative means of revenue: sensationalism and yellow journalism.

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