Arthur Miller once said, “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” The quote indicates towards the qualities of newspapers. It shows the intensity of trust on the newspaper by the nation and the society.
But how sincerely the journalists are performing their duties, its really doubtful these days. The focuses of newspapers have shifted from the social reform to the lives of urban areas, fashion and technology etc. Mostly all the newspapers are after money. They have become business-minded. They simply want to earn more and more money and are looking forward to increase their circulation. In this way the news values are being ignored and the reporters have forgotten what they are supposed to report and what not. Perhaps this quote of an American-born British violinist Sir Yehudi Menuhin seems very suitable in this context. He once said, “Whenever I see a newspaper, I think of the poor trees. As trees they provide beauty, shade and shelter, but as paper all they provide is rubbish.” Even Arnold Bennett, an English Novelist once said, “Journalist say a thing that they know isn’t true in the hope that if they keep on saying it long enough it will be true.”
What we notice these days in newspapers is the changing style of writing, contents and status of news story as well as the articles. The news about the life-history of a film star cover the front page of the newspaper whereas the news about the dying people due to poverty in rural areas hardly find a place on the inside pages of the newspaper.
That’s not all. Newspapers have crossed all the limits to make the news sell. The history shows how the newspapers had played with the facts and figures. In 1992 during Hindu-Muslim riot few Hindi newspapers in North India showed great irresponsibility. Instead of promoting calm and peace they put the fuel in the fire by playing with the number of dead, playing with headlines and pictures.
During the Mandir-Masjid issue in Ayodhya, the Hindi Press played a damaging role by inciting passions against the government and the minority community. Four Hindi dailies: Aaj, Dainik Jagran, Swatantra Chetna and Swatantra Bharat were censured for their gross inconsistency and impropriety violating journalistic ethics in covering the events relating to the Mandir-Masjid issue by the Press Council of India in January 1991. They were found guilty in a few instances of playing with the pictures, such as drawing prison bars on the photograph of an arrested mahant, formulating causality figure.
One of the newspapers carried out the headlines like “Ayodhya mein Ram Mandir toda gaya (Ram Mandir demolished in Ayodhya). “Nihatthe Ram bhakton ko gher ker ghanton firing – 200 maray Kartik Kay Snan par khoon se nahaye Ayodhya Jallianwala Wala Bagh kaand bouna pada” (Hours of firing on the unarmed worshippers of Ram after rounding them up – 200 die, Ayodhya bathed in blood on Kartik-day bath, Jallianwala Bagh episode becomes petty against this.) “Sou se adhik lashein Saryu mein fainkee gayein.” (More than hundred bodies thrown into river Saryu).
The purpose was very clear. They wanted to sell the news and it was possible only when the news were sensational. A newspaper at once came out with the different numbers of dead in the different edition on the same date. Varanasi edition the paper told the number of dead was 100, whereas according to Kanpur and Bareilly edition it was 200 and 500 respectively. In Ranchi edition the paper reported that 400-500 were dead and injured whereas in Agra edition it wrote 100 killed.
Another newspaper gave this headline without making any attribution. “Har goan ko Ayodhya maan kar sangharsh karein.” (Consider every village as Ayodhya and fight out.) The same paper in a report of communal clash, openly identified persons of the two communities involved.
A newspaper crossed all the limits. In it’s Varanasi edition It carried out the headlines “Ayodhya mein…kar sevakon par firing – 115 mare, darjaon ghayal (Firing on kar sevaks in Ayodhya – 115 dead, dozens injured). The paper had originally given a figure of 15 dead on November 2 in a special bulletin that afternoon, but at the last moment ‘1’ was inserted by hand to make it ‘115’. The item remained credited to the news agency ‘Univarta’ even after this charge. This is unethical, in addition to being totally irresponsible.
One more example I remember from a newspaper in Bhopal. After being the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Uma Bharti was interviewed by a journalist. She told so many things about her plan and the development issues. But the journalist ignored all these facts and came up with a quotation headline made by her. The headline was “I am still the Sanyasin of Ayodhya”. The journalist did so because he wanted to add Masala in the news item.
Last year during the Pope controversy also media played a negative role. It was the impact of media only that in the morning Pope made the remark and the people throughout the world were on the street to protest in the same afternoon. By focusing a specific part of his statement the media made it a sensational issue and sold the news.
Even during the Gujarat riots in 2002 journalists made the situation worst by publishing sensational reports and pictures. That is why the riots reached to other parts of country as well.
Journalists should avoid provocative and sensational headlines and the headings must reflect and justify the matter under them. They should remember that comments and value judgments should not be motivated or guided by partisan feeling. Newspapers are not there to bring the smile only on readers’ face but they have to report the truth whether it brings smile or force the reader to think seriously on the issue.
After blasts or any disaster all the newspapers come up with various sensational headlines. But the smarter newspaper is that which tells us how to escape the disaster or how to avoid such blasts. Newspapers are supposed to built the nation and it is possible only when the people think positively. The negative kind of reporting can mislead the people.
Charles Prestwich Scott, an English newspaper editor once said, “The newspaper is of necessity something of monopoly, and its first duty is to shun the temptations of monopoly. Its primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted. Neither in what it gives, nor in what it does not give, nor in the mode of presentation, must the unclouded face of truth suffer wrong. Comment is free facts are sacred.” Newspapers must report the truth and keep it in mind that they are the fourth estate of democracy.