The Many Faces Of Mediaby Simran Puri August 1 2015, 11:27 pm Estimated Reading Time: 7 mins, 15 secs
Panoramic landscapes of rock formations on face of the earth are not the only structures that present the spectacle of erosion. What takes infinite centuries to change the contours of those formations take but a finite moment to erode rocks that uphold the world of technology : fairplay, truth, morality, public interest , are but a few. In the ever expanding universe of media world, the profile remains ever changing. This is not a deity with a single face. But manifold, and growing in genres and mediums, fed by technology and vistas of opportunities, transcending barriers of law and boundaries of subjectivity. The faces identifiable are ones that touch upon news, journalism, entertainment, social media, advertising, with commercialization colouring every aspect of these entities. Corrupting influences run parallel to the visible groundwork. Escaping law enforcers, and gullible consumers alike. Somewhere the wave must break. And the law enforcement agencies must stone the wall.
“Maggie!Maggie!Maggie!” the ubiquitous sound finds echo in every TV channel, re defining a mother’s role in her child’s nourishment with tacit approval from the innocents. Excessive lead and sodium find no mention on fancy packaging. “Fortified” breakfast cereals promise added benefits to health, widely propagated on media advertising. Added sugars and agents promoting shelf life are given go-by. Pop-ups of aggressive advertising invade the computer screens. Unknown brands ride renowned faces for brand endorsements, inviting public investments in real estate, healthcare, plantations, fixed income returns, and similar investment and return avenues. In print media, advertorials masquerades as news, believable and credible. The readership believing in integrity of the written word, walks into webs of admissions in educational institutions(not accredited or recognized), healthcare schemes (with fine print exclusions), laudatory information on public figures seeking elections or elevations(false projection). Sponsored articles implanted in media extolling benefits of exotic foods and regimen, unfit for Indian diaspora gain infamy only when discovered to user’s detriment. Fine print disclaimers or labels escape attention, with deliberate illegiblility. Morphed pictures and surrogate advertising make for successful imposters on the ever expanding horizons of impropriety. Large full page advertisements invite public monetization for promised returns, with unbelievable offers. Timesshare resorts, plantation schemes, direct marketing gimmicks, Chit funds etc. offer alluring promises that unwary investors suffer when dreams and finances vanish into thin air of deceit. The Sarada and Q-Net scams have vanquished many small investors.
There is no denying that advertising sustains the media. In any of its avatars. Riding on the crest of media outreach are programmes, information, advertising, paid news, entertainment, social media, and other proponents of interests. Ranging from altruism to the utterly motivated crass commercialization. As one media professional quoted, “News is the stuff between advertisements.” The cacophony of lure in any media is evident in all facets . Paid news adds to the conundrum. It remains a pernicious practice, reaching new nadirs, with sponsored supplements. Political mileage that dominates media space invites active participation from all gainers. Multiple paged paeans record bounties of Chief Ministers with their own persona occupying larger visual. Reputed newspapers are ever willing to oblige. The brazenness of trends has frightening ramifications for a democratic process. The brand building exercise seems to have attained cult status. The powerful media lobbies promote revenue through such trends. As P.Sainath, senior reporter from The Hindu said about paid news causing “immeasurable damage to the fight against major corruption within the Indian media.” The deception resultant from paid news manifests in influenced thinking on decision making, with no knowledge of excessive, unjustified expenditure on planting paid news. A discerning mind notices shift in print format and the neglible disclaimer ‘Advertorial’ in a remote corner of the box carrying glorified news of person or thing. The only ones enriched, remain the media house and the planter. The need to protect media as a free and honest institution has never been greater. Every aspect of its credibility is at stake today.
The genie of unfair trade practices only gets bigger, untamed and threatening. In the fairytale ball of masquerading pretenders, how is the truth to be unearthed? Are there sentinels and vigilantes upholding public interest? Are adequate safeguards in place to protect the multifaced disseminator of information, the media?
The freedom of commercial speech is protected by Art.19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. “It is actionable when the words go beyond a mere puff and constitute untrue statements of fact about a rival’s product” say Halsbury’s Laws of England. There is no single regulatory body in India for regulation of media in its different faces of operation. The power to redress violations rest with Courts, Central and State Governments, acting through legislations and regulatory bodies, including the Consumer Forum. In addition, the police can act in cases invoking the Indian penal Code or under the Cable Television Network Act. The Press Council of India ensures adherence to regulations by the print media. The Broadcasting Content Complaints Council considers complaints regarding any programme broadcast on TV channels. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India addresses transgressions in the medium of terrestrial content and broadcast, including satellite –radio content. Telemarketing has largely been reined in under their auspices.
The bodies set out above act in accordance with violations that ensue when any of the faces of media transgress applicable laws. The law empowered by sharpest teeth is the Indian Penal Code, under which criminal action can be instituted and offender punished for publication or broadcast of content that is obscene, anti national, against public policy, community etc. The advertisement viewed in print showing a python enwrapped around two leading models is a case in point, where long drawn case of obscenity was slapped on the creators and models. Under the Drugs and Magic remedies (objectionable Advertisement) Act 1954 no endorsement of magical remedies is permitted. Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act 1986 prohibits indecent representation , as self evident, from the Act. Under Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940, report of central drug laboratory cannot be used for advertising. Under The Copyright Act original works are protected in its varied forms. The Consumer Protection Act 1986 has power to discontinue unfair trade practice that misrepresent goods or services of a standard quality, quantity, style or model contrary to their real content.
In recent times. The Advertising Standards Council of India , a non statutory Tribunal, entertains complaints based on its code of advertising practice. It has effectively banned advertisements on television that touched obscenity, as the one of men’s underlinen showing a woman at the ghat washing them with suggestive content. Another that was taken off showed a mother pacify a rude child by cooking sweets in the oil being promoted. The advertising Code under the Cable Television Network Rules prohibits advertisements offending women, caste, decency, nationality etc. The Press Council of India has taken serious view of paid news laudatory to interests of politicians, as in case of Ashok Chavan promoted articles prior to 2009 elections. Campaigns in social media that are defamatory have been pulled down by orders of Court, with injunctions against providers not to circulate them. The same was effectively done in the recent case of the documentary on Nirbhaya rape case. Any defamatory or vexatious reportage invites Court action for restrain and damages. That explains frequent ‘Corrigendum’ and ‘Apology’ follow after the offensive report.
The need of the hour remains autonomy and empowerment of the editorial staff of media houses in print and electronic world, who must stand up against the onslaught of sponsored blitzkrieg by vested interests, which in the long run erodes credibility of the media. Within the legit framework, if media creators and corporations involved in broadcast uphold the tenets of strong values, the results would been far reaching. Sting operations have made public many truths that would never have reached eyes of the populace. True coverage of events, places, incidents and ground realities are an imperative for a vibrant democracy. If the oars of bona fides and fearlessness row the boat, the sea of deceit can well be crossed to promising shores. It would disallow commercial scum to muddy the pure waters of sound governance and secure society. Larger interests of society would be best subserved if law and regulation is followed in letter and spirit, and not be subverted by narrow commercial aggrandizement for a growing media world.
The old adage would fare well if remembered in its entirety, “a Barley corn is better than a diamond to a cockerel.”