News Next 2020: Can news channels be objective anymore, experts deliberate

On the panel chaired by Dr Bhuvan Lall were - Rohit Sardana, Sumit Awasthi, Anil Singhvi, Rahul Mahajan, Bhupendra Chaubey and Palki Sharma Upadhyay

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Feb 24, 2020 7:48 AM
enba 2019

The News Next Conference 2020 held in Delhi on February 22 witnessed several rounds of discussion on the issues of maintaining objectivity in television news. Does TV news become propaganda at some stage? Does it become a tool for political parties who can use channels to send their message? What is the role of a news editor and news anchor today? All these questions were raised and answered during the session on - Differentiating editorial content from propaganda. 

The panel was chaired by Dr Bhuvan Lall, Filmmaker and Author, Lall Brothers Entertainment. 

On the panel were Rohit Sardana, Executive Editor- Special projects, Aaj Tak; Sumit Awasthi, VP, Planning & Special Coverage, ABP Network; Anil Singhvi, Managing Editor, Zee Business; Rahul Mahajan, Editor-in-Chief, Rajya Sabha TV; Bhupendra Chaubey, Executive Editor, CNN News 18 and Palki Sharma Upadhyay, Executive Editor, Wion.

Lall started off the discussion by mentioning how large India's democracy was in the world. Citing the example of the 2019 General Elections, Lall said for the first time in the history of the world around 900 million people had the right to vote and elect their leader. “In the world of democracy India is the best student - we say what we want to and how we want to. In this democracy the best thing is the media. We have all kinds of media, anchors and channels and they take a stand 24x7. They tell us what is happening and what we need to know, and this helps us form our opinions.”

Lall’s first question was for Upadhyay - What do you think is the Indian news network’s stand as far as objectivity is concerned? The Executive Editor of Wion said: “I think objectivity is in short supply, I have to admit in the Indian media or any other media in the world. With the changing dynamics of news and information, there is a glut of information available online and if we speak about television news, people don’t come to you necessarily for information, they come to you for validation. People want to hear what they believe in and so yes you could say so that objectivity is not always respected. But at the same time I believe the viewers have the ability to differentiate what is objective and what is propaganda. All news becomes propaganda depending on what headline, phrase or adjective you use. Objectivity can be compromised to take a stand.”

Taking the discussion further, Sardana said, “The job of a news anchor or news channels is to bring all facts together and present it to the viewers. This will be called being objective, and if they miss some facts others will call them liars.”

On the other hand, Chaubey believed that there was nothing called objectivity anymore. “I am talking about 10 years back when Twitter was beginning to enter the newsroom. The editors started talking about hashtags and news trending on Twitter. Social media is taking control and has fundamentally altered our profession and I completely agree with Palki, it is impossible to be objective now. The programme I do – Viewpoint – the name of the show is based on the viewpoint of a news anchor. I don’t see investment has been done in terms of reporting talent. No money is invested nowadays on ground reportage. That's the reason objectivity is losing relevance. I don’t see hard reportage taking place in our industry in today's time.”

Speaking about controlling fake news, especially the news forwarded through WhatsApp, Awasthi suggested that such content should be censored. He also said that even if the service becomes paid it could control fake news.  

Lall further added that in today's scenario news channels have become more of entertainment channels. There is less news and more noise.

Talking about his channel Zee Business, Singhvi said: “We might be the only channel that doesn't do political debates and we don’t face such situations or problems. News channels follow their editorial policies and people who like content will praise and others will call it propaganda.” 

Mahajan also said times are changing. Earlier, there were print and news channels but now with social media and digital, television news is changing. He said, for instance, people have the opinion that Rajya Sabha TV is a government news channel but that is not true. “We have 40 million subscribers on YouTube and we get all sorts of comments on our videos. “People don’t have faith in news channels. As journalists, we need to think how to handle this situation and rebuild the trust.” 

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