Has Indian Media become pulp fiction ?

One day I was switched on the TV and watched Aaj Tak, a channel I have respected in the past and given serious exploratory interviews. To my horror the reportage on the Arushi murder case felt like the most C grade exploitative Hindi Movie, or worse a cheap TV Soap. Replete with brutally inter-cut shots of the poor girl and her parents with a song from Tare Zameen Par called “Tujhe Sab kuch Pata hai Maa”. I wrote off Aaj Tak as a serious news channel. Last night i saw Star News do something just as bad on the same issue, so do I write off Star News too ?
Here is my issue then. When I direct a film and if there is criticism I take a direct hit personally. An editor of a newspaper (in better times) would take personal responsibility for the content of the paper and it’s views. But who is responsible for the quality on a news channel ? I personally know the owners and promoters, and have known them to be intelligent and in-depth thinkers. They were the ones that used to eloquently talk of the bad taste in Hindi Cinema and denigrate it when I first came to be part of it. And this is not just the news channels, some of our best loved and revered morning newspapers have turned into gossip broadsheets.
Question is, does becoming a corporate body put a barrier between you and questions of personal taste ? Does being a corporate body suddenly switch your personal responsibility from value in quality to valuation on the stock market ? I completely understand the idea of economic growth, and market capitalization. Hey ! you put enough sex on the third page, enough skimpily clad sexy girls on TV and you will make money in any case – but turning a murder (and perhaps attempted rape) of a 14 year old girl into pulp fiction is so much worse.
Incidentally anyone remember or anyone in the media interested anymore in the Nithari murders, when over 20 bodies of children were found with their heads cut off. That also happened in NOIDA, not far from where little Arushi was murdered.

38 thoughts on “Has Indian Media become pulp fiction ?

  1. Fox new does the same stuff in US.. news channel should provide news in a non-biased, dry format instead of sensationalizing it.
    John Oliver(at the Jon Stewart show) had put it up perfectly… just put any crap on tv with a power ballad as background music and the audience will agree with you..
    There is a reason why scientific papers are published in same black and white format for the past 300+ years.. facts should be completely objective.. there should be no room for any subjectivity/emotional influence in the presentation of a fact, no matter how ghastly the details are.
    every news channel I have seen goes from idealism to cynicism to selling oneself for trp ratings.. I don’t see any news channel.. I get my news from indirect sources like newsletter from school, blogs and Colbert report :P.

  2. Sir,
    My apologies to use this section for introducing myself to be able to assist and work with you.
    I read an article about you in mint LOUNGE. just now.
    I have just finished a two year full time course in Business of Films and Television from Whistling Woods International – First Batch of July 2006.
    I have recently launched a Mobile Internet Application to show Video Clips/Short Films/Small episodes/ on Mobile. USP: These videos cant be saved or transferred on the Handset. http://www.onkia.mobi (Beta) SMS onkia to 56006 to download on Airtel live or Vodafone Live Nokia N/E series handsets.
    I am an entrepreneur since 1980 and run a printing press currently servicing CD VCD DVD packaging needs of SONY BMG Music since 1999.
    I would be happy to come down and offer my services to you to learn from you and to practice under your leadership.
    You have been a role model for me since a long time and given an opportunity to work with you will enhance that.
    I stay at malad East with My wife and 2 school going daughters.
    Thanking you,
    Vinod Agarwal
    Linked In profile.
    I have my CV ready to mail you.

  3. One very pathetic thing with Indian news channel now a days is “use of breaking news”. Every single news is dubbed as breaking news and is flashed in-out like balaji telefilms’s dramas. It feel so stupid to watch that “Amitabh Bachchan ko khansi aayee” as a breaking news for a whole day.
    The main problem for any channel starts when the team of technicians, reporters and news readers don’t feel the attachment to that particular news item. Process is mechanized for profit and only profit.

  4. Well and rightly said, Shekarji. It’s disgusting to switch-on the television off late to see all the stuff that is doled-out to us in the name of news and entertainment. The channels seem to want to go out of their way to sensationalize news at any cost. As disturbing as this trend is with the national channels, it is even worse with regional channels (Eenadu and Sun Television being prime examples). It’s amazing how most of the regional channels get away by showing all the blood, gore, mutilations and even dead bodies on prime time slots. Sometime back, when there were blasts in Hyderabad, a channel called TV9 had the gall to repeatedly broadcast graphic, uncensored images of the blast, jump-cuts and Russian angles included, all to the tune of some cheap filmi-sounding music – I’m sure even Dr. Hannibal Lecter would have winced. Are there no regulatory bodies to watch what is broadcast on TV? Or are they all busy fussing over ban of silly liquor and cigar ads that appear in third-rate glossies..? There exists such negativity in what we see on TV these days. I think what one gets to publish, or see first-hand on the internet is far more accurate… and the fact that one can resort to self-censorship, in other words pick and choose the content, comes as some sort of consolation.

  5. Sir,
    In my humble opinion and what ever I have learnt and reseacrhed these are my findings which acknowledges whatever you mention but the perspective is different.
    We are a niche audience watching these channels.
    These channels are actually meant for small towns having one Tv at home. These are the people who are giving high TRP ratings to advertisers. These are the people whom the advertisers are targeting. Hence we may have to reserve and assess our views about such channels in a relativity domain.
    With new media companies launching new channels every week after week and the reality shows taking the TRP higher and higher we are going to have to face more and more clutter. Media guys are worried about positioning of their own channels and hence to grab eyeballs they will continue to cross all possible LAXMAN REKHAS of journalism.
    The best and the worst part of this medium is that it has sold itself to Bollywood and regional cinema content.
    With Motion pictures market spend increasing after each release and another we have to wait and see the transformation happening.
    This is the beginning.
    Please pardon me for my grammatical errors.
    Vinod Agarwal – Aspiring media producer (Motion Pictures)

  6. i think this is a disease world wide, sensation sell and media people will do it at any cost even if it involves degrading human existance. i see these reporters and news channels using humsn suffering for TRP’s.it’s a down hill of of society and media is a reperesentation of what society is going throw.
    i have stopped reading news papers and watching t.v news beyond head lines, this help me to keep my sanity intact.

  7. Mr Kapur,
    I do not know if you fancy meeting arbit people people over coffee…but if you do, I’d like to meet you…and no, I am NOT looking for work!
    Let me know…

  8. Shaam hue tho sab ek dibbei mein agayei,
    Sanam bhi bikah,main bhi bikah aur khudha bhi,
    jei jana hain,ajj hi sub kuch hain,
    Bus saansei chalrahi,warna baqi nahi kuch bhi,
    Jahan walo aur kitna mazaq udaoge insaniyath ka,
    yaad karo tum bhi thie insaan kabhi,
    Tijarath aur shohrath kie hawas ne andha kardiya,
    Hum jazbaath bhi dekha kartien thei kabhi,

  9. Shaam hue tho sab ek dibbei mein agayei,
    Sanam bhi bikah,main bhi bikah aur khudha bhi,
    jei jana hain,ajj hi sub kuch hain,
    Bus saansei chalrahi,warna baqi nahi kuch bhi,
    Jahan walo aur kitna mazaq udaoge insaniyath ka,
    yaad karo tum bhi thie insaan kabhi,
    Tijarath aur shohrath kie hawas ne andha kardiya,
    Hum jazbaath bhi dekha kartien thei kabhi,

  10. yes mr kapoor. im totally agree with u.and if these news persons say tht they r in news business,and they have to compete .then they should nt claIM THEIR RIGHTS AS 4TH PILLAR OF THE DEMOCRACY.THEY SHoULD CHANGE THEIR PUNCH LINE FRM sabse tez channel, quest for truth etc

  11. Dear Shekhar,
    I think the Indian TV news channels are suffering under pressure to perform. First, there is not enough breaking news everyday let alone sensational news. Secondly the public in India just wants entertainment i.e. they watch news like they watch a soap i.e. for entertainment and not to get news. Most people really don’t care about the news so the TRPs are derived on whether the news can hold them for 30-40 minutes. Now if one channel becomes a serious one like BBC the other one caters to their entertainment the first one may lose TRP, so the top execs, most of whom are quite intelligent, create a product that looks sensational because they risk losing TRPs as well as sponsors (who are the main drivers). Ultimately the product is driven by the audience and if the audience rejects the product the maker will have to make changes, so it is upto the masss to not accept that as news and not tune to it. But if they enjoy it they will be served more of it. I think it is just part of evolution of the Indian Televison – cable only came to India 17yrs back, this massive competition between news channels is only 4-5 yrs old, and it will all get sanitized over time as public tastes get more refined.
    Best Regards,

  12. Shekhar,
    I just got in India and had a chance to see few of these channels…I think their basic aim is to fill the time slots than to do some constructive work. So many of them have BABAS and astrologers most of the time. Anyway they are making me laugh all the time and I am having a great time here.Its hard to find such a comedy all the time.
    Last night I went out and got a chance to speak to an egg seller on the street.Check that out at this link on you tube.
    Shekhar, My you tube channel was picked up as a partner with you tube now.So creativity has started paying already.

  13. It’s the capitalist/materialist formula..selling poisonous emotions, packaged in various forms of goods, to human minds. Good or bad? It’s all good in the big picture, but the immediate mechanism or intention is that of making profit off of sensuality-addicted human minds.
    And it seems that people are getting dumbed down by the day..for me, it is an insult to human intelligence to put crap like those Ektaa Kapoor serials on public TV or the multi-million genre of rap music..that kind of crap should be criminalized for messing with human minds.
    But in the context of these news channels, though i think that the Indian news channels are a lot more intelligent and creative than the ones in the US and stuff, they are all under tremendous pressure, those poor folks 🙂 to keep stuff interesting 24/7, they can’t just keep a black and white format of “Aaj ki taaja khabrein..” and repeat that format everyday, every hour..so the line between profiting from a business and social responsibility gets blurred and wiped out many a times.
    Even then it seems that Indians need to have the reality stuffed in their faces 24/7 for them to wake up to the mess in the Indian administration and infrastructure.
    On a separate note, hope you guys have been catching the humiliating intolerance towards Hindus going on in Kashmir while the Maoists make another killing of 50 policemen in Orissa. The Chinese and “northern terrorists” are going to bring the Indian stock down if the awareness of the clear and present danger to Indian stability is not recognized soon enough, just as what happened in Nepal.

  14. I stopped watching channels like Aaj Tak, Star News etc. ages ago! LoL. You’re a bit late in realizing the obvious.

  15. dear sir,
    i agree with you, all the news channels folling the same formula..
    infact the news papers in india also have their own Formula, most of the days they dont know what to carry on the front page. world news is content is bad, all they cover few stats abot sex, hollywood news, funny side of bush and obama’s latest run, thats it.
    i dont remember reading any news about peru, italy, south american countries, germany, austria, south africa,… atleat 50 more countries in last 3 months

  16. Shekhar,sadly and grudgingly there is a market for this isnt it?
    Sensationalism,crude and crass,in the form of what we see today,in my opinion became mainstream after Star turned into a mainstream hindi news channel.Surprisingly the tabloid format,hi-on sensationalisation,the mundane ,catering to lowest common denominator news gets incredibly high airtime.I but sadly moved away from Star and the likes,thank god for some people like Prannoy Roy and his team at NDTV,there is a responsible alternative.But if Star receives the highest TRP, and Aaj Tak keeps increasing eye balls every month,arent they catering to one part of our ‘collective psyche’.If so is it these channels to be held responsible.This goes into the classic debate of ‘media’ being a reflection of the society etc.Amitabh Bachhan in one of his recent posts refers to this in an interestinng way while reacting to the idea of ‘mediocracy in actors’. Who is to define quality and hence rate mediocracy?
    Coming to taking a hit on critism for your films? Why should you? Films do not come out of a different planet.They are in every sense an inner reflection of the director/story writer on a context which he has observed or recorded in daily life at some point or the other.A film is like your child.It is safe to assume that the best of intentions go behind bringing it to life.But this child can come across as errant to some and a leader to others.By trying to take responsibility you are probably assuming a larger role to yourself,an idea that you are in its entirety responsible for it.
    It simply takes all kinds to paint this world.I choose not like some colours.

  17. I think it is human nature to be fascinated by shocking and disgusting real events. It is sad, but its true that there are a lot of people who will gladly lap-up such stuff – the violence and weird stuff in cinema and TV is just not enough for them.
    I could argue (just as a devil’s advocate) that Bandit Queen also dramatized very voilent situations?
    I think there will always be a market for such sick sensational stuff. I am OK if it is properly rated and people prevent their kids from watching it.
    I would be more comfortable if the market was rather small – if there are more people who want news and less people who want reality-entertainment, we would have a few channels with good news content, and 1 or 2 with the crap.
    The indian tv news market is just maturing … in a few years it will consolidate and there will be only a few major channels left, and perhaps there will be more accountability from the top with regards to the content.
    There will perhaps also be a more vocal minority in the future which will express displeasure on such content, and will influence the sponsors to influence the tv channels to moderate their content.
    In the end, we Indians in general like to be melodramatic and loud, so …

  18. I cannot tell you how much I agree Shekhar. When I was growing up we had DD news. Sombre announcers with almost a funeral expression on their face saying ‘Namashakar, aaj ke samachar mein…’. I remember Salma Sultan with her trademark red rose, sombre expression, would give an impression of a smile when she wished us ‘Shubh Ratri’. That was one extreme. All the grown-ups followed the news diligently and I would wait for the torture to get over. And this is the other extreme.
    It always gets my blood pressure up to see how they cheaply exploit human misery to bring up their TRP rating. I remember in the days of the DD raj, they were so sensitive that if they had some really bad news, like say the assasination of Rajiv Gandhi, they would not even wish you ‘shubh ratri’. They would simply end off with ‘Iske saath samachar samapth hote hain’. Sridhar has a valid point. News does need to be presented in as unbiased a manner as possible.
    Here in the US I sometimes catch Zee Tv news. Since there is only a half hour slot for the news, one expects there should be some useful news. But no. They continue to dish out items like a tribal woman married a snake. A man is in love with a tree and God knows what other stuff. The scripting is third class. It really sounds like a dialogue from some C-grade hindi film. Gone are the sanskritized Hindi days of DD. Everything is so melodramatic and filmi. Recently, they were doing a feature on Sachin Tendulkar and they kept playing ‘Azeem o shaan shehenshah’. It looked so cheesy and corny. But that is still OK. People who see humour in kitsch (like me) can get a good laugh out of it. But when they take that format to serious news, one really wonders if their News producer has an upper storey.
    Who gives direction for such a format. It obviously did not exist before, someone came up with this brilliant idea. Not a single person I have come across appreciates this kind of stuff. I am told in the smaller towns it is still DD that has a strong hold(which stays firmly etched in the 80s and I actually like it now). Then who are they catering to?
    When I was in India in March, there was a flash flood in Delhi. Lots of rain and the roads were all jam packed. Happens once in a while. Definitely something to report on a local channel. But Aaj Tak did a 1/2 hour impromtu program on that! It was so inane. The anchor was saying just anything that came into his mind. Something like ‘jaise aap dekh rahen hain, paani ab roads ke side mein bhi hai aur beech mein bhi’. Then they catch someone on the steet and ask ‘Abhi baarish ho rahi hai.. aapko kaisa lag raha hai’! Geez. Give me a break!!
    I think the other point to really consider with the opening up of the media is, should we have some mechanism that stops people from catering to the lowest commnon denominator?
    What has changed so much from the days of yore today. Why was TOI become a tabloid?
    Sorry for the rant… but this is my most favourite rant. I think I repeat with unfailing regularity whenever I discuss India with anyone.

  19. Dear Shekhar ji,
    I totally agree with you.I recently bought a package of Indian channels and shocked to see the level of News.The most disappointing is Aaj tak as for others they at least donot claim say that they are the best.The other irritating thing is the long breaks of commercials which is not permissable in news.I laugh when I see the breaking news and most of the channels are obsessed with Bolywood stars and their personal life which is none of viewer business.
    In only two weeks I realised that it is wastage of time,instead I love to read the newspapers on
    net which at least you can choose which news you want to read. Thanks for bringing this in your blog.
    Best Rgds,
    Sahni M.S.

  20. Sir,
    Sensation pumps up adrenalin and sadly development has no limits! Be it any industry, automobile to news or even social service these days!
    Should be really tough to chuck this unless humanity itself goes about by looking much further away from material short term benefits.
    Sometimes wish a Gandhi is born in every generation!
    Jojo1976 from France

  21. Has Indian Media become pulp fiction ?
    Yes and no.
    One should always try to search root cause of problems.Basics are same everywhere,when Socartes said something years ago and Plato and Aristotle wrote and explained it they said every system is bound to corrupt ,so after few hundered years ago law should be scrapped and rewrote accoording to that time and its requirement..I’m not going away from your point media and pulp fiction.You read news papers just about 50 years ago and you would find the difference in content now and then..Why is difference is because their respective time.Now we eat market,read market,sleep market..Then not like that..Any public system or organ like media judiciary,adminstration,law is very complicated to understand and rectify…Because human greed and human brain always overpower them..
    Lets take media its not just in india I watch more than 100 news channels across the world in so many languages and found that they are not that different exception is everywhere like in india NDTV exist so THE HINDU which are not that market driven still value content..
    What I’m trying to say is that every transformation or transition is bound to bring chaos,melodrama etc it just vary…Media is in transition phase…
    I always think why news channels should on their satelites when really there is news,imagine if you are watching some other channels and in mean time aajtak (suppose)which is not live since two days came up with breaking news then more people will watch those news then usual and they can gain same money or TRPS but these are my ideas..
    P.S. When there is no news they create ,twist,strecth it longer because they have to go on24hours..Complusion to do when there is no need to do create lot of problem so with news channels..Reason is same which you wrote few days ago in yr blog HUMAN GREED AND OVER CONSUMPTION…

  22. sir,
    I am very thankful 2 u for your comment on the issue of these news channels.Today these news channels are only showing those things which provide them better trp`s and all.
    Many important issues which must be raised for the welfare of the country and the society are lagging behind the cases like aarushis murder case,prince falling in a ditch,who is the king akshay nd srk.etc
    Sir i deeply support your thought and want that such issues must be brought into the limelight so that atleast people could watch some issues that are related to the the India`s progression.

  23. Shekharji, in the list to be written off would be the local languages channels as well.
    It so happens that several local language channels (especially in Kannada media as per my own observation) have also picked up deplorable practice of sensationalizing the news, pulp fiction being just a part of it.
    The Padma Priya case was another story that got the same treatment by the media. Gossips were *discussed*, media went in to the gory details of every possible fictional account.

  24. Now I know my comment may raise unhealthy debate of Hindi vs. English press. But its true. All hindi channels have gone to dogs, they sensationalise stories. Their prime time news is about B-grade TV stars. IBN7 is hindi nes channel from CNN-IBN (sister concern), but coverage is different. Hindi channel is at par with India TV and Star TV, two biggest tabloid news channels. NDTV can still be trusted.

  25. Strange that you should mention it. Just the other day I had been lamenting over the same matter.
    All the more so when I’d heard that Ekta Kapoor wanted to include “Arushi murder case” in her prime time series. As if it has not been sensationalised enough by our very own “khabris”!
    According to me, there’s only a single channel among all these news channels who provide us with little nonsense. NDTV.

  26. Well the recent Perus Narkp issue finally did it for me. There are no journalists, just a bunch of copy editors. Bad ones too. It is one to not fact check reports, it is another to embellish them even further and make up new facts. I love these guys: http://penpricks.blogspot.com/
    Seriously – not a single ‘journalist’ googled for ‘Perus Narkp’ to see if such an organization exists? Or the several other outlandish acronyms used in the release! Good show pen pricks. Pretty much all credibility is destroyed for all Indian media at this point.

  27. Goes to show how long you have been away from this country… the phenomena you have highlighted has been around for years now. It was one of the first repercussions of the media boom. As more and more players entered the market and fought for public attention, quality of news reporting and respect for human suffering both went out of the window. I personally stopped watching the news on TV a couple of years ago when the tsumani happened. It was a tragedy of colossal proportions, and while I wasn’t personally affected by it, I did want to follow the proceedings. But what I saw on television, irrespective of which channel I tuned into, was nothing short of disgusting. The words chosen as headlines were matched by the theatrics of the reporters… it was enough to put me off television news completely. The last time I tuned into TV news was when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Even among the news channels, I can only stand NDTV, which is not to say that I endorse the channel (as if anyone cared) or their reportage, its just that the anchors maintain atleast some degree of decorum, even if they all sound the same, wannabe copies of Prannoy Roy. Really!
    I rely on the newspaper now for my daily dose, which admittedly is only marginally better.
    As an aside, I remember a section from the documentary film ‘the Corporation’, in which a stock broker (or some such thing) spoke about 9/11 and how much money people made on the stock market in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. He speaks in fact, about the microseconds it took him to switch from shock and disbelief, and any sense of regret that he might have felt, back to work mode, thinking how it might have effected the NYSE. I assume media organizations work the same way… every new ‘breaking news’ is a way to increase TRPs, which is logical, of course. The question here is one of integrity, but in a profit driven corporate world, that is easily compromised. You speak of a sense of responsibility and taste. But then the people we see on our screens, and who take the flak, are in fact only following orders from higher powers-that-be. And it is easy for someone of your caliber and means to take a stand. But a person of average intelligence, with half an understanding of the larger picture and modest means probably cannot afford that luxury. And the rest who should be held accountable are probably driven by the need to be able to maintain their standard of living, thereby making their individual points of view far less important, or atleast far more negotiable.
    The bottomline is, at the end of the day, money rules. And that is the truth manifest in every facet of our existence. Surely you admit that there is a larger audience for Mr India than for Bandit Queen, in your own words your most accomplished film. And similarly, there is a larger audience for a DDLJ than for Mr India. Is that not another instance of the same phenomena?
    Which brings me to my next point, and one that disturbs me greatly. If profit is what is ruling the content of much of the media, and they are merely catering to popular taste, then that just highlights the condition of the society that we live in. A society that laps up regressive saas bahu serials and loves to know every last personal detail of their favourite stars. But only accepts the most spiced up versions of the most serious news. Not that they are entirely to be blamed. In my opinion, the media does have a role to play in this deliberate ‘dumbing down’ of the common man, for they use it eventually to their advantage, by feeding him more and more of senseless, even manipulative content packaged in a manner that appeals to him, while serving their agenda and those of its supporters.
    I may have gone off on a tangent here, however, the world just seems to be an interconnected web, where nothing exists in isolation. In this scenario where power is the biggest virtue, certainly qualities such as morality and a sense of responsibility have become scarce.

  28. Shekhar sahab,
    What u write is absolutely correct, However, we have to understand that today over 90% of Indian society watches TV only to get cheap entertainment at somebody else’s expense.The more gorrier the dirtier the better it is. The corporate houses like a good bizmen have caught on to this pulse and are serving what the “aam” janta wants. In Any civilized society , a news channel such as Star news shud have been banned, but here in India it gets one of the highest trp. Shud we blame them or us ???

  29. Pooja,
    That was brilliant post. Was just wondering if you had read my post (somewhere up there) before yours, cause there is a bit of commonality between both.

  30. Good evening………
    Yes sir, i totally agree with you…
    as i am also going to step in the media field very soon,i wonder and scared too..as to what these news channels will do in the coming days.
    These news channels have broken all the levels of dignity and morality and are running in the race of TRP. In this unbeatable race they have forgotten ethics of being in media…
    the thing that is really inglorious on their part is the sensationalizing the issues that are really sensitive and that have direct impact on people’s emotions…
    I think these media houses should speedily do something to recover its lost glory and do things that help mankind and society as whole…….

  31. yes. the arushi case was handled in the most insensitive, indelicate and irresponsible manner. the channels were vying with each other to sensationalise bits and pieces of ‘news’ without confirming them – and then they start backtracking.
    anything for survival, seems to be the policy of the channels.
    the Headlines Today’s coverage of arushi was the worst – the sentimental claprtrap indulged in was simply unbearable.

  32. In a generally free market, almost everything (including quality) is available at a price.
    The real question is – are the unhappy consumers a majority or a minority of the total customer base?
    If its a majority, then the only explanation is that market research department of Indian media is doing a shoddy job. In this day and age, I seriously doubt this.
    If its a minority, then its simply a question of affordability – its bound to be more expensive to satisfy this selective group than it is to satisfy majority with mass appeal products. Clearly Indian media market researchers think either
    (1) this group of minority consumers do not really know what they want and hence do not know how to tailor-make a product for them. Again, I think this is very unlikely.
    (2) this group of minority consumers will not be willing to pay the necessary premium (bingo! This is your answer, I think)


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