11 April 2009

On Media, News and Journalism

In 1958 legendary radio and TV journalist Edward R Murrow gave a speech to the RTNDA* about the state of the American news media. Many of the things he said are relevant for the Indian media (print and electronic) today:

The elaborate structure of networks, advertising agencies and sponsors will not be shaken or altered.

That your voice is amplified to the degree where it reaches from one end of the country to the other does not confer upon you greater wisdom or understanding than you possessed when your voice reached only from one end of the bar to the other.

I am seized with an abiding fear regarding what these two instruments (radio and television) are doing to our society, our culture and our heritage.

If there are any historians about fifty or a hundred years from now, and there should be preserved the kinescopes for one week of all three networks, they will there find recorded in black and white, or colour, evidence of decadence, escapism and insulation from the realities of the world in which we live.

One of the basic troubles with radio and television news is that both instruments have grown up as an incompatible combination of show business, advertising and news. Each of the three is a rather bizarre and demanding profession. And when you get all three under one roof, the dust never settles.

Or do we believe that the preservation of the Republic is a seven-day-a-week job, demanding more awareness, better skills and more perseverance than we have yet contemplated?

I am frightened by the imbalance, the constant striving to reach the largest possible audience for everything; by the absence of a sustained study of the state of the nation.

If the sponsor always, invariably, reaches for the largest possible audience, then this process of insulation, of escape from reality, will continue to be massively financed, and its apologist will continue to make winsome speeches about giving the public what it wants, or "letting the public decide".

*Radio-Television News Directors Association

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