NDTV's 'Big Fight' recently aired an interesting debate on whether media needed a regulator. The programme featured top media honchos like Indian Express' Shekhar Gupta, The Hindu's N Ram, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Aniruddh Bahal and popular soap actress Smriti Irani.
Over the years the size of the audience has grown considerably, while certain areas of the economy has been deregulated. "The media exercises a lot more power than before," said Shekhar Gupta, Editor-in-Chief, The Indian Express.
The Hindu, Editor-in-Chief, N Ram, felt, "The media needs a mechanism for accountability and an internal regulation is essential." The question of individual responsibility arises here.
There are some bad apples in the lot, journalists who are fixers and even resort to blackmailing, but there are several good journalists. Pointed out Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, Director, School of Convergence, "There are good guys as well, the media has immense power and with power there should come a certain kind of responsibility… Journalists are like hypocrites, they don't like the microscopes to be turned on them."
Media has acquired a new aura of power. For every person his media is good, while that of the rival is bad. N Ram added, "There is serious media and then there is entertainment media. The benchmarking must be done on factuality. Journalism has to practice discipline vigorously to retain its credibility."
Anirudha Bahl, Editor, Cobrapost.com, felt, "Journalists don't understand the difference between facts and exclusives. The objectivity has to come in the voice-overs."
TV actress Smriti Irani added, "Journalism is not only about stating facts. It helps us to change the minds of many people. It will be naïve to say that tabloid journalism will go out of the market. It is up to the journalists to decide if they will sell their pen for revenue."
Today, media has become big business. Profit maximisation is of utmost importance and 80 per cent of the revenues depend on advertising. Though a line has to be drawn, walls cannot be created between the editorial and the marketing departments.
"A newspaper is not like any other product. News is about facts and opinion and there has to be a kind of social responsibility attached to it," explained Guha Thakurta.
Apart from the bread and butter, it is essential to have food for thought. Journalists need to maintain a standard of ethics.
Indian Express' Gupta felt that over the years, entertainment and news had got mixed up. "Some sections of the media are entertaining, politicians are entertaining. But we need to desist from trivialising breaking news."
Tabloid journalism and serious journalism are going hand-in-hand, but viewers and readers have a choice.
"There is no question of having a licensing system for regulation. It has to come from within. No external regulation is possible and there must be diversity," maintained N Ram.
The media is out in the open now and everyone has to face audiences and when mistakes are made, the media entire is embarrassed. "Nobody can hit and run." asserted Gupta.