Growing up I learned that the “Pen is mightier than the sword”. Indeed, it was, is and will continue to be so. I have heard the famous stories of “Indian Express” newspaper releasing a blank editorial during the Indian emergency of 1975 as a mark of protest against the government for curbing the freedom of the press. Many other prominent newspapers followed suite. It had a huge impact on the national discourse. Free and neutral press was what brought out many scandals like the Bofors, Cricket match fixing, Defense deals or the Nira Radia tapes. Newspaper editors conducted themselves with the highest level of integrity and ethics. People could trust print media as much as they could trust the courts in India. Editors were rarely seen mingling with politicians or partying with people of power.
I had the good fortune of growing up reading credible newspapers like the Deccan Herald (Bangalore based printers), Hindu and the Indian Express. Credible they were and probably are even today because they have a balanced view and presentation of facts as news. Never siding on one side or the other and letting the reader form his or her own opinion. And when there was an article published by a person with an affiliation that could potentially present a favorable or unfavorable view on a topic, it was clearly called out as an opinion and not news to caution the reader. This was and though rare today is the journalism that is true to itself. At least this is my understanding of what journalism is.
The advent of TV and website journalism started with the same idealism of print media. With increasing competition, the idealism has eroded with ethics and neutrality put by the wayside. I have had the opportunity to watch TV media closely both in the US and India. I see a blatant change and one sidedness in what is presented to viewers as news depending on what news channel you are watching. Every news channel is either in favor of one political party or the other. If you flip channels on the two sides of the aisle, you can immediately see two versions of the truth that leaves the viewer confused on what really is the truth. Neutrality has fallen so deep down lately where we have witnessed a leading news anchor in the US sharing stage with a Presidential candidate or a leading news anchor in India threatening opposition political leaders. The news channels present opinions to the extent of brain washing viewers. Some have lost credibility and the right to call themselves journalists. Another problem is fake news or indicting people guilty with a question mark “?”. That’s a whole different topic and I won’t touch that here.
My struggle has been “where can I find neutral news?”. Funnily a TV cable technician once told me to watch BBC if I wanted to watch neutral news on America. Watch a foreign channel for neutral news about a country? While it may sound odd, its actually true in my view.
I am still struggling to find neutral TV news. Print journalism is slighly better in terms of neutral coverage. A few newspapers are still untarnished by the color of political affiliation. Some may consider a few neutral newspapers as anti-government. In my humble view it’s better for a newspaper to be called anti-government instead of pro-government. Journalism is supposed to be the fourth estate and a watch dog for the people against the government and that is what it should be. I wish and hope TV and website journalism come back to become the fourth estate.
On a side note, the first newspaper I read was Deccan Herald. I am a still a regular reader of Deccan Herald and it’s my favorite. My English skills are largely influenced by this credible newspaper. I have been reading Deccan Herald for now close to 40 years and it has still maintained neutrality irrespective of who is in power in the state or the center. Check out the daily / weekly / yearly horoscope. It’s almost 99% right in my case.
As always, I welcome comments.