COVID 19 and Health of Indian Media
| Dr. Preeti Singh, Thought Leader, Haryana - 08 Jun 2020

The health of journalism in a country can be examined in the times of a crisis. These are testing times for the government and the media as COVID-19 continues to spread. An FIR has been registered against senior journalist Vinod Dua by Delhi police on the complaint of “spreading fake news” under Sections 290 (public nuisance in cases not otherwise provided for) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) and 505(2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes). Earlier, an FIR was filed against Siddharth Varadarajan, the founding editor of web portal The Wire by the Uttar Pradesh police. Several such cases of FIR against media are reported from different states. India ranked 14th on the list with 18 murders of journalists with impunity from 2008 to 2018, according to The Global Impunity Index 2018. The governments seem rather unwilling to let critical voices have their say about the way in which the crisis is being dealt with. There is an explicit expectation that the media’s coverage should be “positive” and follow the official line.

 By Dr. Preeti Singh

The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has created a global health crisis that has had a deep impact on the way we perceive our world and our everyday lives. Not only the rate of contagion and patterns of transmission threatens our sense of agency, but the safety measures put in place to contain the spread of the virus also require social distancing by refraining from doing what is inherently human, which is to find solace in the company of others.

Within this context of physical threat, social and physical distancing, as well as public alarm, what has been (and can be) the role of the different mass media channels in our lives on individual, social and societal levels is much discussed now a days.

Mass media have long been recognized as powerful forces shaping how we experience the world and ourselves.

This recognition is accompanied by a growing volume of research by Frontier Research Review, that closely follows the footsteps of technological transformations (e.g. radio, movies, television, the internet, mobiles) and the zeitgeist (e.g. cold war, 9/11, climate change) in an attempt to map mass media major impacts on how we perceive ourselves, both as individuals and citizens.

According to Media Researcher, Ms. Shruti Mehrotra, in the last three months, the spread of the COVID-19 has proved deadly, and this is a challenging time for the union as well as state governments as they work to address this health emergency.

However, past experiential researches show that in times of crisis, democratic governments may take a dangerous autocratic turn.

In such a situation, journalism has a great role to play in a democracy, as it has been ideally visualised as a platform for objective information and critical-rational discourse.

Thus, the health of journalism in a country can be examined in the times of a crisis. These are testing times for the government and the media as COVID-19 continues to spread.

“A new study on attacks on journalists in India in the last five years has revealed that there have been more than 200 serious attacks on journalists in the country in the period between 2014 and 2019,” reports The Wire on Dec 26, 2019.

According to the study titled Getting Away with Murder, “There were 40 killings of journalists between 2014-19. Of these, 21 have been confirmed as related to their journalism.”

Moreover, in the cases of more than 30 journalists who have been killed since 2010, there have been only three convictions, namely in the cases of J. Dey (killed in 2011), Rajesh Mishra (killed in 2012) and Tarun Acharya (killed in 2014). As per the study, the perpetrators of the killings and attacks included government agencies, security forces, political party members, religious sects, student groups, criminal gangs and local mafias.

The governments seem rather unwilling to let critical voices have their say about the way in which the crisis is being dealt with.

There is an explicit expectation that the media’s coverage should be “positive” and follow the official line.

While much of the media, corporate-owned as it is, has surrendered, a small section is courageously following journalistic ethics, says famous journalist Bhupen Singh.

The prevalence of international media on the internet and small media organisations in the country has played an important role in disseminating factual and more nuanced information, but unfortunately, these platforms do not have the vast access that big corporate media platforms are privy to.

In this regard, the centre government sought a direction from the Supreme Court on 31 March that “No electronic/print media /web portal or social media shall print/publish or telecast anything without first ascertaining the true factual position from the separate mechanism provided by the central government” (Livelaw News Network 2020).

Since most of the people are at home during the lockdown, it is natural to see a growth in media consumption as well.

People are using various media platforms for COVID-19-related information, but what is provided is far from factual and does not further a critical rational discourse.

According to a research study by Stefan Hall and Cathy Li for the World Economic Forum sheds light on some metrics that do so, as well as calling for new thinking on improved criteria.

One of the most direct ways to gauge value is engagement, and on this front media is doing well.

Between 80% and 90% of us read, watch or listen to news and entertainment for an average of almost 24 hours during a typical week.

It’s no surprise that engagement with media is high, considering the variety of quality providers there are today.

The pandemic is also threatening an already-deteriorating economy, which also demands a thorough investigation beyond the official narratives.

The media, however, has worries related to its own economic situation.

Print media, especially, is dealing with a resource crunch, dwindling advertisements, and worries of reduction in circulation and readership.

With concerns of job security, inadequate resource support, and abuses faced by the police, many journalists are putting their health at stake to cover the COVID-19 situation.

Bhupen Singh further explains the fact that, majority of Indian media is under corporate control; there are many counter-voices both within and outside this grouping.

Thus, the Indian media scope has become a battleground of ideologies. Many of these alternate counter-voices have raised genuine issues of social concern during the pandemic outbreak.

The prevalence of international media on the internet and small media organisations in the country has played an important role in disseminating factual and more nuanced information, but unfortunately, these platforms do not have the vast access that big corporate media platforms are privy to.

Hence, the media has become a tool of propaganda and sensationalism. Some television news channels see a Chinese conspiracy in the spread of COVID-19. In such a “positive” atmosphere, the news related to labourers’ mass exodus and the markaz was mostly presented due to its sensational value.

In the view of increased consumption of media during self isolation and hunger for more updated and analytical information everyday passing, the role of media has become more noticeable and significant.

With the recent review studies and research it has come into notice that media has emerged as a more reliable tool of spreading information during these times of crisis as:

·       A source of reliable information.

·       An influence on the public response to the outbreak.

·       A marketing platform.

·       A powerful way to bring positivity to a scary time

In this way, the concept of “New Normal” has started paving the way for present and future generations. The New Normal, who is prepared to embrace change, aspiring to acquiring new skills, accepting the alternative ways of communication and redefining success, is in the process of adoption. In the times to come, there would be limited gathering, travel restrictions, remote working and mix life balance.

E-commerce and digital media platforms will take a fold so the role of media also becomes very much important in such times, where the social transformation and commitments are taking new shape.

COVID-19 pandemic comes with opportunities as well as challenges for the communication and new-media sector and credible new of utility delivered in a sustained, calm and reliable manner serves people in a meaningful and helpful way.

Besides, to better control infectious diseases a better understanding of the mass media on the uptake and waning of social distancing practices is needed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Indian Observer Post and Indian Observer Post does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

Representational Image - Vinod Dua, Courtesy - National Herald / Social Media

ABOUT AUTHOR

Dr. Preeti Singh is Sr. Asst. Professor, Amity University, Haryana. She is having over 10 years of Research & Teaching experience in different universities including Amity University, Noida, Guru Gobing Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi, and Kurukshetra University, Haryana; Ph.D. in Journalism and Mass Comm, M.Phil and PG Diploma (Advertising & Public Relations); UGC-NET qualified; Authored a Book titled “Women and Television: Television Viewing Behaviour of Rural Women”; A Prasar Bharti certified (‘Vaani’) broadcaster cum Compere with AIR for last 10 years; Life member,


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