Riding high on a new wave of technologies as new media platforms emerge, the traditional media is in a state of flux today. It’s witnessing a shake-up like never before even as it’s becoming quite apparent of it no longer remain the primary source of news and information to many. The burst of alternate media in the scene, particularly digital media, in the past few years has changed the media landscape and clearly taken the wind out of the sails of traditional media. It has given the concepts of news gathering and news dissemination an altogether new dimension, making instant news a reality where social media too is playing its role in no small measure in widening the reach of the new media.
As advances in digital technology have increasingly made the world flat, it no longer takes a privileged few with deep pockets to start, own or run a news organisation, even as the profession of journalism has become increasingly more accessible and dynamic. The recent advances in digital technology have bridged the divide between news reporters/broadcasters and readers/viewers while empowering the latter to directly connect with the former, even question them. And anyone with access to necessary digital tools can become a journalist today, besides being the owner of digital media platforms. No wonder, taking advantage of all these, numerous YouTube channels and Facebook pages have sprung up today dedicated to news, besides a plethora of news portals.
Many “activists” too have taken to social media for news reporting in a big way. And realising its huge potential, traditional media – both print and broadcast – too have started using social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to amplify their content. Even social media giant Facebook is reportedly working to roll out regular news service. Thus, alternate media, particularly social media, is being used extensively to complement traditional media’s reach, and in the process, the platform itself has become the new source of news and information.
However, amidst all these, as the media is cast into a new mould, it is the professionals in the traditional media who are feeling the heat as lakhs have been laid off across the country in the past few years as management of newspapers and news channels seek to cut down on manpower cost while embracing new technologies.
As the media is becoming leaner and meaner, more accessible and hence democratic, it is the journalists who are fast losing their pre-eminence as the primary gatherers and dispensers of news. Further, as now virtually anyone can don the cap of journalism, the profession has virtually lost both its exclusivity and pre-eminence. And owners of newspapers and news channels have contributed in no small measure towards hastening the process of the industry’s fall from grace, besides some of the so-called eminent journalists who have done little to redeem the profession.
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The fact of the matter is many newspaper and news channel owners have over the years considered the journalists as nothing more than pawns in their great game of checkmating opponents and currying favour with the powers that be in order to further their own interests. And unfortunately, some senior journalists too have willingly allowed themselves to be used by the management, while at the same time pursuing their own agenda of self-aggrandisement. And the consequence is now there for all to see – very few respect the profession any longer. So, at a time when the hardworking and honest journalists are facing new challenges, such journalists are keeping mum.
Further, as torch-bearers of the profession, most prominent journalists had also done precious little to help promote quality journalism or act as guides to the juniors and instead promoted themselves. They rarely impressed upon the management to invest in the proper training of journalists. They never sought to uphold the dignity of the profession or the interests of their fellow professionals – never published a single article or aired views on news channels on the plight of the journalists. But again, it won’t be fair to put the entire blame squarely on their doorstep. For, the managements for whom they work won’t allow publishing or airing of such opinions.
Actually, unlike the popular perception and behind the glitz and glamour of the profession, journalists are like paid employees of any other private organisation who are expected to kowtow to their management’s diktat. So, they can never be expected to take a stand against their employers or speak openly in support of their fellow professionals. Thus, the profession has been anything but independent.
This entire concept of “independent journalism” or a “powerful media” is but a myth, if not a fallacy altogether, that has been perpetuated down the decades. The journalists are always at the mercy of their employers. So, most of them are only as good as the management – no security of job or even life, even as most of them are offered meagre wages. Bid by the government and highest court of the land to rein in such erring managements and ensure minimum wages to working and non-working journalists is openly trashed by a vast majority of newspaper owners, while many find ingenious ways to circumvent the process. The condition of journalists working in broadcast and digital media is no better as they too are not immune to the hazards of the profession.
What is even more tragic is the fact that many journalists had been killed in the line of duty, but managements of news organisations never really bothered to care or took such cases to their logical conclusions or forced the government to act. There is still no legislation ensuring safety of job and life of journalists. In the Northeast alone, 32 journalists had to lose their lives since 1987 in the hands of militants and criminals. But not a single person has been convicted so far and nor has management of any news organisation in the region taken a tough line against groups suspected to be behind the killings of their staff. Most of kin of such journalists have been left to fend for themselves, with little or no support from either the owners of news organisations or the government. But sadly these are the kind of issues that will never make newspaper headlines or primetime news.
Contrary to widely-held public belief, the media is largely agenda-driven, and the agenda is not set by the journalists but decided by their employers. Under the circumstances, how can the media or journalists expect to remain independent? Of course, this is not to paint all media owners with the same brush. There are exceptions, but they don’t make a rule.
Meanwhile, no doubt, the emergence of new media has virtually marked a death knell for the traditional media. And those still in the profession don’t harbour any hope of seeing the industry revive itself. But what is ironic is that despite this, thousands of professionals trained in traditional media are still being churned out by media institutes across the country every year though there is little hope of them being absorbed by the industry. It’s about time these institutes recalibrate their approach to include new-age media in their curriculum.
(The writer is an independent journalist based in Guwahati. Views expressed are his own)