In the last few years, several television anchors have expressed their emotions in front of the camera apart from requesting for aid. But is it ethical?
A 19-year-old youth has been suffering from a deadly disease. Coming from a modest family background, his costly treatment could not be supported by his parents. He is a young singer who not only sings but plays guitar as well. During a popular television show of a leading news channel of Northeast India, this youth’s story has been highlighted, where he has been allowed to give a live performance. After his performance, the anchor asks his parents to explain their situation. The parents describe that they are finding it very difficult to continue his expensive treatment. A high volume of sentiment is raised in the show where the anchor even cries. Later, the anchor appeals the audience to donate for his treatment to save the life of this young artist. The audience responds positively and donation starts pouring in.
The show was successful in terms of gaining audience attention as well as getting good Television Rating Points (TRP). This is not a unique programme that was broadcast in a news channel of Northeast India. This type of news shows has seen an increase in the last few years where anchors expressed their emotions in front of the camera as well as request for donation. This type of shows has been gaining popularity, consequently getting more TRPs. Win-win situation for the media.
However, these shows raise some fundamental questions about media ethics and its interface with emotions. Is it ethical for an anchor of a news channel to express his/her emotions? How objective will be the role of an anchor when he/she asks to donate to an individual or to a family?
The above questions need to be examined using the lens of media researchers rather than an audience. There is an ongoing debate on media ethics and expression of emotions. One school of thought appreciates the emotional displays during news programmes. They believe that it indicates empathy and humanity of journalists/ anchors. However, many criticise emotions during news programmes on the ground that they guide the audience on what to feel after watching the show.
There are instances even in news channels like BBC where senior correspondent Graham Satchell cried and could not continue reporting during coverage of Paris terror attacks in 2015. Regarding the increasing trend of expressing emotions in a news channel, many scholars feel that it is the result of “tabloidisation” of journalism, in which the lines between objective reporting and entertainment become blurred.
The sensationalism of news programmes for TRP deviate media from following the journalistic values of objectivity and detachment. The current popular trend observed in the Indian television news is that news anchors as well as reporters create unnecessary excitement about the news. Is it a good presentation? This is happening because of intense competition among news anchors to catch eyeballs.
To catch eyeballs, there has been a lot of effort of creativity and experiments which on many occasions violates the norms of media ethics. Researchers comments that the issue of TRP, business and other interests of the owners, demands of the advertisers, editorial policies and quality of the employee journalists are a few important factors which influence the content of a television news channel.
A media researcher once mentioned that the competition to catch the eyeballs and reduce the programme production cost impacts the decision of the content of television news channels. As a result, sensationalisation, tabloidisation, loud and shouting debates are a few visible experiments which have been frequently witnessed during news programmes. Another social scientist believed that Indian news anchors must realise that freedom comes with responsibilities. Therefore, he gives caution that they should not act as judge, jury and executioner.
There is an attempt of media, both print and electronic, to reach out every nook and corner, communicating modern trends and achievements, broadening the mental horizons. George Lazaroiu in his article, The Language of Journalism Ethics, remarks that ethics in journalism is based on both news gathering and the way in which news is framed for consumption. The observation of Lazaroiu regarding media ethics encompasses not only the reporter and camera person but also the gatekeepers of the news channel. Globally, media has showed an inclination toward sensationalising an issue/ incident to get more TRP while compromising social responsibility to a great extent.
The New York Times has given a detailed guideline for its journalists to follow in their professional conduct. Perhaps, there may be violation to a certain degree, but it will definitely allow them to judge their conduct in their daily routine. However, this type of proper laid down guideline is missing in most of the news channels in India. And Northeast India is not an exception. There have not been adequate interactions and workshops for journalists and anchors by professional bodies of media.
Coming back to the scenario of the Northeast India, the role of news channels is much wider. The HBC (Heinrich Boll Foundation) special report on Text, Image and Vision: Media Representation of India’s Northeast and Democratic Space highlights that the rapid expansion of the media in India does not necessarily lead to wider coverage of the country’s marginal or peripheral regions. The news covered by the metro-based media is insufficient compared to the quantum of issues confronting the Northeast region. Therefore, regional news channels need to be more inclined towards social responsibility by highlighting issues with an objective and fair manner.
Regarding fundraising appeals of news channels of the region, it may lead to the new dimension for discussion where journalism ends and activism begins. Globally, the famous ‘MeToo’ movement has brought activism into the newsroom itself. As the debate continues that along with generational lines, with older journalists likely to maintain the separation between news and opinion while younger journalists see less distinction between their personal and public personas.
An author of Teen Vogue’ once gave a very good remark where the writer says that journalism does require some skill in recognising other people’s points of view and being able to hear someone’s story. That openness cannot be achieved while journalists become an activist. Thus, journalists/ anchors need to be more self-restraint working in the region where many protests and movements are exists.
If here, media tries to take the role of activists then the complexity of conflicts can be intensified. Rather, the media, especially the news channels should promote civil society organisations who can take active part in activism.
(The author is a Fulbright Conflict Resolution Fellow. Views expressed are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)