Does Indian media go overboard with breaking news?

September 12, 2008

Just when I thought news trivialisation by a section of Indian media could not get worse, it did. And how.

bang.jpgIn a control room somewhere on the French-Swiss border, scientists of CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, waited for the first signals to come in from a $9 billion particle collider as they embarked on an experiment to unlock secrets of the universe.
In a town somewhere in Madhya Pradesh, farmer Biharilal’s daughter Chayya sat glued to the TV screen, taking in the graphics and amateur video game imagery put together by vernacular news channels who said the experiment would bring about the end of the world.
The fact that I’m sitting here writing this is proof enough the world did not end. But Chayya, who killed herself fearing what doomsday prophets said would be the experiment’s cataclysmic effects, is not around to see that.
Sensationalism in 24×7 news coverage is relatively new to India — a concept borrowed from the larger and more prolific western media. In India, every road accident, murder and rape makes delightful copy for news channels vying for the attention of elusive viewers with serious commitment issues.
In a country where a sudden media boom led by rapid economic growth and freeing of entertainment and media markets has resulted in a plethora of channels all “bringing news first”, viewers switch loyalties before you can utter the word ‘TRP’.
The viewers have seen it all, they control the remote control and unless you hold them down with the right concoction of sensation, sleaze and news, they just won’t stay.
Which meant that the fear psychosis created by vernacular channels on the biggest scientific experiment of our time spread like wildfire across the country. The rationalists logged on to the internet to know more about the Big Bang project while the religious held prayer sessions.
What shocked me was how ill-informed and factually incorrect some of these channels were on scientific trivia. A channel repeatedly referred to this “big dark hole” in the universe in the same hushed tone little Red Riding Hood’s mother would use to caution her against the big bad wolf.

The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued an advisory under the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995 to two Indian TV channels asking them to show restraint in the coverage of the Big Bang  experiment.

The Big Bang episode brings back flashes from the Aarushi murder case and the murders in Nithari. The media hijacked both of these cases in its tearing hurry to break sensational and gory news.
Doctors say youngsters came in to report nightmares soon after the murder of 14-year-old Aarushi Talwar when news media pointed an accusatory finger at the girl’s parents.
Psychiatrist Samir Parikh advocates the judicious use of the power of information that rests with the media.
“Do not give out half information, act responsibly,” he says. terror.jpg
For the impressionable section of India’s uneducated population without access to correct information, speculations based on a colourful imagination could act as a trigger, as in the case of Chayya.
Most vernacular channels and newspapers have realized the untapped marketing potential in the semi-urban and rural populace who in turn are indirectly redefining content by wanting their own spin and refusing to be force-fed news from mainstream English media.
On the whole, media does more good than bad, says Parikh. And I agree. It was the pro-active role by the Indian media that led to the triumph of justice in the murder case of model Jessica Lall.
I could go on about the countless times my brethren saved the day, but among other things, this post is mainly about restraint.


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I am still amazed that villagers across India knew about the Big Bang, albeit the doomsday version, and many of my city pals were oblivious to it. I think many people in the city, and thankfully so, have given up watching Indian news channels and reading newspapers.

Wish there was a government mechanism to keep these ‘breaking news’ channels in check.

Posted by Natasha | Report as abusive

There are two things that we don’t use judiciously – the Remote and the Power “ON/OFF” button. Must be a victim of our own morbid fascination.

Posted by Madhu | Report as abusive

very well written story, hope more people read it…thanks

Posted by Dr. parikh | Report as abusive

How much information is right information? This is one aspect which the so-called India’s Better than the best news channels overlook at their own leisurely convenience. If this is what the Fourth Pillar of India’s democracy looks and acts like, then a doomsday of greater magnitude isnt far behind. Mediamen excuse themselves (lamely though) with the repugnant statement “This is what viewers demand”. No Chayya would have liked to see an impending doomsday. Thanks to Ritu for penning the reality effectively. I am sure she too agrees that Indians are not over enthused to know the “way to Yamlok” when the visuals are in reality picked from ruins of forts in Rajasthan or of the snow-clad mountains in the north or about the certain spirit who brutaly slaughters life as an act of vengeance. We have enough gory incidents in our daily lives to draw pleasure or excitement from such thrills.

Also seems the print brethren have picked up the trend and customised it in accordace with their medium. Or how else could one explain the stories, severely lacking in details and facts about the same Bing-bang dommsday that did the rounds in some of the leading dailies and their supplements.

Irony infact is that journalism, today, is vis-a-vis a Black Hole like phenomenon, with mindless reporting and factually lacking stories, irresponsible and mob journalism waiting with their mouth open to drown this much hailed profession into eternal darkness. Only fellow scribes can prevent thsi beautiful art from going to dogs.

A brilliant piece it is. Couldnt stop short with the comment!

Posted by Sutapa | Report as abusive

TV news no longer enthuse the Indian media and nowadays they fall more in the category of entertainment and not as mode of information. Rest assured you may find the news channels being nominated to filmfare or some other bollywood awards. I wonder if they would have read this blog, the breaking news would have been “Indian TV on Reuters…”. Even highest judiciary had to step in her also to stop the continuous maligning campaign the TV journalists were rendering to a poor 14-year-old girl, murdered in outskirts of the national capital. One needs to think whether press continues to be the fourth pillar of Indian democracy or has this pillar started crumbling. I think I stop here as they would say media khatre (danger) mein…

Posted by Fed up with TV news | Report as abusive

It is a very interesting article. Though the media in India is quite active and exposes weaknesses of the administration through investigative reports, it also act irresponsibly by over-acting on crime stories. In a rush to come first, they sensationalize simple stories and even are responsible in creating communal hatred. They must be restrained.

Posted by Nandamishra | Report as abusive

Isn’t there some body that can force sense into Indian media? Today, they did it again. At 8.30pm (13 Sep) we were treated to some “Breaking news” related to the Delhi serial blasts, with all channels claiming a child was found with a live bomb. The boy was just 12, and to see the way the reporters were almost on top of him, trying to get his visual was disgusting. And then they got even lower. All of the channels managed to get hold of the boy for “exclusive interviews.” I’ve written on my blog, about how Bharka Dutt, that icon of frontline reporting, used one little chap during her live reporting. Disgusting.

Posted by Gasper DSouza | Report as abusive

You seem to think that English channels are blame free & acurate ? Many of them give out half baked info & sensationalise. There behaviour after a calamity /accident/ bomblasts are nauseating to say the least,

Posted by Sankar | Report as abusive

Indian media can not even copy properly.
I regularly visit news websites life CNN and I never saw this kind of shocking news on those channel but these Indian media scared the hell out of me. I was wondering that how come Indian media are so up to the dates that world doesn’t have any idea about “The big black hole”? Indian media just highlighted the other part of the the story. But not the original story. I know this is just for a cheap publicity. Shame on them.
The ministry of Information and Broadcasting must fine them. or at least take an action.

Posted by Rohan | Report as abusive

Nicely written article was a pleasure to be on your blog. Thanks

Posted by Shivanand | Report as abusive

While I totally agree that some one needs to beat some sense in to the media, it definitely must not be the Govt. Given half a chance, our netas and babus will start using the law to pressurise the media for their own ends. I think the best candidates for this would be us viewers else we will continue to be bombarded with sensationilism or stupid news items like” Cow falls in to well” or Goat with two heads”.

Better to switch off the TV and return to the newspapers, some sections of which still report responsibly.

Posted by Arun | Report as abusive

Very well written..but its not always fair to blame the media for the foolishness of people.. This kind of thing has being going on for ever, people trying absurd acts of bravery after watching a Cola ad, imitating stunts in movies, the list is endless. I guess there is a fine line between underestimating and overestimating the intelligence of your audience. The booby trap for most journalists.

Posted by Suvasree | Report as abusive

How do you spread the word when the print media also function on the same principle?
The problem is “thrill-addiction” reality show style.
After being in so much neglect, new found technology is making the audience jump around like monkeys with a new bang-bang toy and the channels realise this. I’m very sure that all channels have psychoanalysts on their teams or on contract (cheaper, you see) who tell them so-and-so presentation style causes the most monkey-like behaviour.
Find out that information and report it as a news scam.
File a PIL.
Then watch the fun.

Posted by Shyam | Report as abusive

The reason is very simple. TV Media is an employment sector where some gift of gabs work for a LIVELY HOOD. For these it is just another way of winning daily bread (not to say, they will fight teeth and nail if some one go against them, saying Freedom of Expression..). Therefore, it is a plain truth that they have to compete for their survival (by feeding people gossips and rumours and unfounded truth)
Hope some brainy people will take up these jobs.

Posted by Shaju | Report as abusive

I believe that is natural selection at work. It is unfortunate not everyone is educated to the same degree, but to blame it on the media is weak. If you cannot handle the media, you ought to turn it off!!!!

Posted by benesan | Report as abusive

Even English language TV channels made some hilarious statements. Here is one example: “As NDTV is the first Indian news channel to have reached to the tunnel and reported from there, people should rest assured that they are safe.” – from the question-answer section by the science correspondent of the channel. May be if some other channel hads reached CERN people should have been really concerned about their safety!

Posted by A. Subbiah | Report as abusive

This is tabloid journalism at its worst. Very soon we will have a media that will make the entire nation dumb. Just like the US.

Posted by Sachin | Report as abusive

I lost hope in Hindi news channels when I saw a breaking news ticker a few months ago that read “Amitabh ko thandh lagi” when he was under the weather on a trip to Rajasthan with his family followed by a soundbyte from his politician friend Amar Singh talking about the entire Bachchan family’s health status on prime time television.

Posted by Sakshi | Report as abusive

indian tv is totally boring. they repeatedly ram the same news , same music in their channels 24×7. i heard now they are bombarding with reality tv shows. what a pathetic piece of drivel. when i visited india , i easily got tired of the tv.

Posted by vivek | Report as abusive

News Channels in India

if you want to see real news you have omit breaking news.

it will have the same fate like hyper mall in cities closing one by one, or

may be they will will have to pay viewers to see that perticular channel.

God Save indian News Channel.

Only DD News is the real news channel.

Posted by rashmi | Report as abusive

Well, I totally agree with most of you supporting to question & punish the media for giving out half information to the people; Media is the only source to pass the information to rural areas where people are not fully educated and speak/worry about nothing.In Reuter’s , BBC or CNN, we cannot see such bullish nonsense information as we see in our indian media.
Our indian news channel’s are literally mis using their freedom ; There should be a law to sue them by any company/individual if the information published is not a fact.
Am living near French border and absolutely there is no TENSION among people here with respect to BIG BANG.No news agency/TV channel is spreading rumour’s related to doomsday.Geneva is more safer than any other place in the globe and the govt/people think even before breathing.We need not worry and pester our head for doomsday and all.We all here believe BIGBANG is an experiment being carried out by scientits to discover how the universe would have formed due to the BIGBANG theory.Thats all about it and NO WORRIES, RELAX….

Posted by Bobby | Report as abusive

We need stronger public litigation to prevent private, unregulated monsters like the media. The people should be able to sue these media magnates off the face of this earth for this kind of irresponsible unethical reporting standards.

Posted by Bobby | Report as abusive

Breaking news becoming Faking news for Telugu TV news channels. Majority of the news are breaking news for them. They should think before marking any news a breaking news!

They should break from the habit of putting everything under breaking news.

Posted by hanmi | Report as abusive

Bhowmikda, good to see that there are at least a handful (or maybe just one?) of journalists who sometimes question the power of the media. Other journos take it for granted and enjoy it, often misusing it as you have mentioned. Like in the Arushi case, criticism of each individual fallacy, each government policy and each corporate step is written by a few and read by millions everyday. It would be nice to hope for responsible and mature journalists and editors, but then mature news will not sell more papers or TV channels. . . so I am not too hopeful.

Posted by Vishnu Shastri | Report as abusive


I definitely agree with you, Indian media had just swept with the most talked about scietific test of the century. It was sheer waster to journalistic writing/manpower into fiasco which had not even happened. I also heard a news about a village girl getting a cardia arrest about thiking too much about it, all because of media hype. There are couple of TV channels whcih are creating false hype and most of the people know them already..

Posted by Manish | Report as abusive

I agree. They do go overboard. How many of us new about Lehman Brothers before the credit crisis? Some dailies have even gone to the extent of publishing speculation & assumptions.. sounds like they need to publish something just for the name sake…

Journalism can be so powerful and constructive, sadly that aint the store over here.

Posted by VN | Report as abusive

Indian media is no longer ‘breaking news’ but they are actually ‘faking news’. This website called Faking News exposes them no end.

Posted by Kamal Sharma | Report as abusive

We now live in an environment that doesn’t punish stupidity with death, unlike every other lifeform on the planet. It is, however, socially rewarded in terms of acceptance, identification, and partnership in a majority. Hence, stupidity will keep on increasing. Our ancestors were smarter than us, and our children will be far, far dumber. And it’ll keep happening.
It’s called evolution, baby.
It’s your future.

Posted by ashish7a | Report as abusive