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FICCI Frames: Is stridency mistaken for sensationalism?

By Sapna Nair , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media | February 19, 2009
Eminent journalists from the Indian media deliberated on the accusations levied on news channels about playing up news and often sensationalizing it

The critics have often had bitter words for editors of news channels, accusing them of corroding the credibility of news and encouraging yellow journalism. In the past few years, these channels have gathered flak from the government, the media pundits as well as certain sections of viewers, for their coverage of events and also for the kind of content that is aired in the name of news.

In the newspaper industry, which has not often come in the radar of sensationalizing news, there is a clear demarcation of the types of news and newspapers. While the broadsheets are for the serious news consumers, the tabloids pander to a different set of readers.

& #BANNER1 & #In a session on Day 2 of FICCI Frames, Vir Sanghvi, editorial director, Hindustan Times, was of the opinion that the time had come to bring in market differentiation to the television industry as well. "Like in print, we must accept that there is a range within television, classified as serious news channels and tabloid news channels," he stated.

Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief, Times Now, proudly stated that television as a medium that has matured, despite lagging behind for a long time. India, he believed, was one of the most evolved media markets in the world. "We have seen decades of growth in the print medium, but television growth has happened rapidly," he said. Today, three times as many people watch news as they did three years ago.

Goswami spoke about the trust vote as one of the instances that proved the effectiveness of television news channels and the lead they have over other media. "Which medium do you associate with the debate on the trust vote? Or, for that matter, the Harbhajan Singh versus Andrew Symonds episode?" he questioned.

He said that in these events, the newspapers commented on what the news channels said. "Television, as a medium, will set the agenda in future and the other media will blog and write about it," he claimed.

Goswami also believes that television has been the only medium to take a stand and stick to it, during the coverage of the Mumbai terror attacks or the aftermath. A print journalist, in contrast, cannot take a point of view. "As per the finer nuances of journalism, I'm not supposed to give a point of view. But are we then supposed to be inanimate, unfeeling robots?" he asked.

When questioned about sensationalizing news, he said that the question that needs to be pondered upon is whether stridency is being mistaken for sensationalism, or if the non-news content on news channels is being perceived as entertainment.

"For far too long, we have been presenting news in a bland way. We have just added a bit of salt to spice it up a little," he stated. But the question to be asked is: Should news be popular or populist?

Goswami is confident that in 10 years, more people will watch news than any other GEC and that the hunger for news in the Indian viewers has just begun.

When asked whether the selection of news to be aired is led by TRPs than by newsworthiness, Ajay Kumar, executive producer, Aaj Tak said that news is editorial led. "TRP is just a means by which we facilitate advertising on the channel. It's a measure of our programming abilities. Channels are driven by zest and we are committed to our viewers," he said.

On the allegation of airing content that may not necessarily fit the definition of news, Kumar said, "If my audience wants to watch it, I will air it." News will continue to be a voice of the consumer, the panel said. "There is no good or bad journalism," they all concluded.