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Mixed Media: Why can’t critics take the criticism (and hence why the news media deserves regulation)

07-September-2009
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Mixed Media:  Why can’t critics take the criticism (and hence why the news media deserves regulation)

Why is it that some of us in the media – especially those in the business of news – revel in damning the world, but when someone else does the same to us, we can’t take it?

Media criticism in India has been non-existent. Save reviews of films and television, there are few who’ve done it consistently. In the mainstream media, MV Kamath and V Gangadhar would (they possibly still do, but I’ve not been tracking them), Sevanti Ninan writes in The Hindu, I would do it for a bit at Sunday Mid-Day, but that’s about it. There may have been others, but can’t recall anyone else from the papers I read.

So, while we can endlessly criticise governments, politicians, films or even food, most newspapers and magazine do not carry critiques on the media. The business dailies report on corporate developments, but nothing really of what we see in the international media. Unfortunate.

There’s a kind of unwritten agreement between newspapers that you don’t talk about each other’s content. Rival newspapers are referred to as a ‘section of the media’ when there’s a report that contradicts an earlier story, and that’s about it.

And journalists who can possibly comment on what others in the tribe do most often, don’t do it because they fear they won’t get hired by them. The news media has thus got away scotfree with literally no public scrutiny. With the Internet democratising media, given that you didn’t need deep pockets to start a website, there were a group of websites that started, including the one you are reading. These were essentially reporting on matters concerning the trade and except for the fact when the publication of some truth hurt others, the trade media has been largely kind to the news media.

I would run a blog at Mediaah!, but without a business model and no funding, I shut shop when a couple of media companies got tough with me. Yes, it was gossipy, but that’s because some of what happens in the media is pretty bizarre. I had two runs with the blog, but realised soon that journalists and media company managers/ owner are horrible spoilsports.

There have been several other blogs, but a large number of them do not carry the real names of the writers. While they are doing their jobs (and some exceedingly well), I firmly believe that critics mustn’t shy away from identifying themselves.

I have often wondered whether one of the reasons why newspapers don’t critique others is because they have several skeletons out there. Or it’s just that the editors are so obsessed with changing the world and running the country that they don’t quite care about anything else.

Whatever. The consequence is that whenever anyone criticises other media, they cry foul. The exchange4media group, which has been carrying commentary on a regular basis – especially on the news media in the recent past – has seen channels withdrawing advertising or just threatening to do it. One can argue that a trade publication, which depends on the advertising of other media entities, shouldn’t mess around with them. Perhaps, but since it has limited readership within the fraternity, there is nothing wrong with some honest appraisal.

I am increasingly of the belief and have kind of resigned myself to the reality that news media owners, suits and journalists don’t merit the constructive criticism. It goes to the credit of the exchange4media Group that they’ve let us be, but, frankly speaking for myself, I wonder why I should be adding on to their stress levels when business is not quite booming.

Although I am personally against regulation, the news media bosses need to suffer some bitter pills. A few public interest litigations, consumer complaints etc, and brutal scrutiny on social networks and blogs will teach the high priests a few lessons. They deserve them. My real fear is that advertisers will reject them if they don’t grow up and change. For, favourable TAM ratings don’t last forever. A bad rep does.

(The views expressed here are personal. Post your comments below or email mixedmedia@exchange4media.com.)

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