Polarization of Indian TV news channels

In recent times, certain Indian TV news channels have been seen to be cozying up to the authorities by airing opinionated shows seemingly supporting the government in power. Some of these channels question the opposition more often than the government over its policies. In an ideal democracy, it should have been the other way around. Is it normal to have such fiercely one-sided news channels that seem to further the polarization already existing in our society?

Rein in biased channels:

News channels are meant to provide unbiased viewpoints to the audience. In the earlier days, news meant bulletins of occurrences on a particular day. Over time, news channels started airing opinions on news bulletins by inviting people from a cross section of the society. The aim was to engage in quality debate and enhance the knowledge of the viewers.

Cut to the present, several news channels are openly pandering to the government in power. Those news channels that question the government are accused of being anti-nationals. Through focused targeting of people with diverse viewpoints, some news channels have been dangerously treading on the thin line between freedom of speech and hate speech.

By obfuscating real issues, channels aligned with the government’s agenda are trying to hijack the narrative on the overall governance and administration of the country. Half baked truths, media trials and premature conclusions are some of the ills affecting the news industry currently.

There is an attempt to shape opinions of the people by manipulating the delivery of news. Twisting facts and pointing fingers at the past actions of the opposition have been constant occurrences in news media. Debates which aimed to provide knowledge to the viewers have become mud-slinging matches with preconceived biased opinions thrust upon the viewers. Voices of dissent are usually silenced by the shrieks of the anchors.

The rights of the minorities can be safeguarded only by an unbiased media. Unchecked rise of polarizing news channels will suppress the aspirations of the minorities and instill fear in their minds. Media is the fourth pillar of democracy and needs to show us the harsh truths. By not showing a mirror to the government, these channels tend to manipulate the citizens’ minds to their own detriment.

The Supreme Court recently noted that “Journalistic freedom is not absolute. Journalists need to be fair in their debates. We have to remember that their freedom is the same as that of any other citizen”. When the highest Court of the country raises concerns over some of the programmes being aired by certain news channels, it should lead to serious introspection for all those involved.

Let the markets decide:

If there is a space for liberal news channels in the country, then there should be an equal space for conservative news channels as well. If channels can air shows with headlines like “Hindu Terror”, then channels should be allowed to air content with headlines like “UPSC Jihad”. Punish channels for factually incorrect statements, but not for their left-or-right leaning opinions. In marketing parlance, consumer is the king (or queen). If consumers prefer high-pitched dramatized content over drab subdued debates, then it is their right to invest their time in such channels.

To argue that news channels that support any one political organization will influence the viewers ability to discern news adversely is a fallacy. There are cases of several television channels across the country with clear political affiliations, and the people are aware of the inherent biases in those channels.

Tamil Nadu is a case in point. Kalaignar TV and Jaya TV are among the popular channels in the state. While Kalaignar TV is owned by the family of former Chief Minister and DMK president Late M. Karunanidhi, Jaya TV is owned by the close associates of former Chief Minister and AIADMK president Late J. Jayalalitha. Shows aired on both these channels usually tend to support their party’s viewpoints. The opposition owned news channel airs stories of government neglect and apathy. The channel associated with the party in power would air shows highlighting the government’s achievements and undermine the opposition’s concerns.

The average voter in the state has been smart enough to understand that these channels do not show the complete picture. In most homes, people usually alternate between the channels to understand the news from both perspectives and arrive at their own opinions.

The demand for quality content will determine the continued existence of TV news channels. The current scenario may seem like the public is only concerned about hype over substance. But the encouraging rise of seemingly unbiased news channels like Puthiya Thalaimurai in Tamil Nadu give hope that quality content will eventually triumph over hyperbole. Let the markets decide which news channels will survive in the long run.

P.S. The Wire has an interesting article on how advertisers are pushing against the hate speech spread by certain news channels. You can read it here.

The News Minute’s article on the different viewpoints of Kalaignar TV and Jaya TV regarding the news of flooding in Chennai is an interesting read.