Sunday, February 12, 2017

Today's Media - A Boon or Bane?

Reach of Media today is global and diverse - be it Mass Media (Press, Print, Television, Radio...) or Social Media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Blogs..). The Community that plays a vital role in collating, and delivering news, information, ideas, opinions, through the Media, need to realise the fact that, what they put out there will remain (thanks to Digital), be (sp)read, inferred and acted upon by people from different countries, cultures, social backgrounds & age groups. Hence, the reported information should be factual, unbiased and/or needs to have an open mindset that can ignite healthy debates or discussions on varied topics. But, off late, it is quite depressing (and saddening) to read or see news, or follow posted information on networking sites, as everything gets "sensationalised" for no good reason. Anything and everything is presented with a gossip-like tone, without clear rationale or factual references. Adding to this, are some subscribers or followers, who dwell into such poorly-complied information and fight it out with a do-or-die fervour and make comments / judgements, without verifying the sanity of the source of information.

Some of you might relate this to "Echo Chamber" effect, rising the readers' "tunnel vision" or Upvoting (aligning to similar personal opinions) ideas or memes floated around, and in turn increase the popularity of such unverified information and "trending" them. This indeed promotes a "false" sense of opinions, against the stark truth of reality. Eventually, the involved parties are shocked to discover / digest true facts and go back to playing the "blame game" of finger-pointing rather than looking within or open to changing their personal views.

Today, everyone has easy access to voice out their opinions. If someone does not share the same view, it is becoming a norm to start using abusive language, to fuel rage and attract maximum "digital attention". During pre-Digital era, if such behaviour was displayed in public, most of them were looked down with utmost disgust. Even within the walls of one's own home, such unwarranted arguments were unwelcome by families. Today's growing fad is to lash it out though social media, wide open to the world, using expletives, with no guilt or sense of social responsibility. Such people forget the fact that ill-mannered behaviour will be etched for ever in the Digital realm, to be read by their future generations (including their own children and families).

How many of you can think of the last time, when the cover page of your newspaper had a positive news in its headline? While "sensational" news start to take centre-stage, most positive or pragmatic information (considered boring) are now are pushed to an inconspicuous corner. The most "trending" information on social media inadvertently tends to be news that promotes rage (e.g. War, Terror..), fake news, Gossips or dwells into private affairs of Civil Administrators or Celebrities. Most talk-shows and debates that are broadcast today on televisions & radios, promote sensationalising topics, rather than to focus on healthy & factual presentation of information. In some cases, the hosts, panellists or broadcasters are already affiliated to certain political or cult organisations, strongly fuelling such thoughts and spreading biased information. 

The freedom of anonymity that social media seems to give us, has made us forget the basic "etiquette" of sharing our opinions in public forums. All of us become news/gossip reporters, chain-cascaders and critiques, without understanding of the impact it can create. With the advanced tech gadgets and apps, it is very easy to "fabricate" information as an authentic one. Tons of such fabricated information being generated and circulated around every day makes me wonder about the quality of information accessible to our next generation and the impact it will have on their thought process and mind conditioning. Will they be able to "filter" out the junk and verify & absorb only the right information or will they soon be "corrupted" by the information overload around them and evolve into "shallow" citizens, with a restricted view? Does Big Data or Internet of Things (IoT) come to rescue? 

It seems to be a worldwide phenomenon, where people seem to ignore Mainstream (authentic & verified) media for news & research, while relying solely on Memes and other "forwarded" articles (It is ironical that sometimes even the mainstream media picks information from social media). Isn't mainstream media all about giving unbiased views without sensationalising them? Present only facts and leave the interpretation and polarisation to the readers and viewers? For example, during the Chennai floods in 2015, I kept surfing news channels in the hope to learn if things were okay with people of Chennai (as that was the only thing I could do staying abroad - Read my blog on my reflections on the same at My ordeal with Chennai rains as a Non-Resident Chennaite!). But there was not a TV channel or News website, that could give me this assurance and instead they were successful in instilling fear for the safety of my family showing devastation (with strong background music) on a continuous loop. Yes, nature had its devastation, but there was also humanity at work. There were thousands of humanitarians who came out to the streets to rescue and provide support. That was probably a few seconds of the screen time, while the dramatisation of the havoc and ruins, took up most of the prime time and headlines. It has been the same during recent Serbian War atrocities, hordes of Immigration to EU or terror incidents across Europe. If negativity is what sells, then how can we expect positive thoughts to prevail? Everyday heroes are not idealised as they remain invisible despite doing their social responsibility correctly. One such recent example being the people who worked for years together for lifting the ban on Jallikattu (Bull Wrestling) in Tamilnadu and who are still working towards the goal of saving native breeds all over the Indian nation), while on-screen heroes are demonised by media irrespective of what do (or don't).

Many celebrities have also raised similar concerns across the world, including Denzel Washington (a victim of fake news and appeals to the media to differentiate "Truth" and "Gossip"), Meryl Streeps (to do responsible reporting and be able to question the wrongful happenings, irrespective of the power equation of the perpetrators involved), Kamal Hassan (challenges the media to report facts to common man and then have them deliberate), Shahrukh Khan (calls out on the media's ability to twist every opinion uttered by famous personalities to suit their personal vendetta and TRP ratings) and the most recent one by Renuka Sahani.

We collectively fail to understand that it is always easy to be opinionated, when you do not have to "walk-the-path" that the person or groups about whom you are being opinionated or criticising. If we all start living the lives of the people whom we criticise, even for just 24 hours, before we are given the right to criticise, I am sure none of us will have anything better to add than what that person has to say. Let us be open to hearing alternate views, instead of shooting it down even before someone starts talking about it. Let us learn to "walk-the-path", before blindly criticising someone and to maintain decency, to challenge others' views politely, without hurting their sentiments.

It is our utmost responsibility to create this awareness to our today's generation, to help them filter such information and teach them to identify unbiased news & factual reports to help them channelise & articulate their opinions with an open mindset and encourage healthy debates with their families and friends, without being offended or making the others uncomfortable.

We still proudly make references to our classical texts like Avvaiyar's Aathichudi and Thiruvalluvar's Thirukkural, because they remain neutral to every facet of life or belief systems, and not biased. Don't we intend to leave behind such learning and experience sharing in the Media, for our future generations to cherish?