I know many of my friends who don’t read the news article or opinion piece in mainstream media these days. They straightway go to the comment section to read the reaction to the story. The comments section is more democratized; there are counter-views for views and shrill extreme comments at times (not acceptable though), but still you get some sense of the public opinions which is less biased that the article itself. The main story you can very much predict if you know the media house, the author and topic. The mainstream media has become more predictable.
Has the mainstream media become biased?
The mainstream media was always supportive of particular narrative. The only difference is that earlier we accepted the narrative as people’s voice. Just before the last general election in India, the renowned publication Economist in one of their editorial openly endorsed one political party with a very scathing commentary on the rival. They went a step further and exhorted Indians to vote for Congress or face a disaster. What happened later, we all know but the Economist Editors were honest in making public their political leanings. Honesty aside, this puts a question mark on their reporting on selective news, ideologies and narratives. This is true with most of the media houses whether Indian or Foreign. People know the pattern and very well predict how a particular news would be reported by xyz publication news or TV channel.
Tribes of shrinking Independent Journalists?
I recall one of the heated discussion during a TV debate where one participant shouted “she is not an independent journalist, she is a stooge of xyz party masquerading as independent journalist”. This must have been so damning for the discourse, more than the person. The anchor of the debate since then started a new practice of introducing the journalist as “sympathizer of xyz party” – better safe than be sorry later.
Another prominent journalist last week on his prime time program lamented on the falling standard of journalism and TV debates. He painted a black screen with subtitles and voice-over that it is a crisis time for media discourse. He talked about various fears but did not mention the most important one – they, as mainstream media are no longer able to set the public agenda.
People are talking back?
The early days of TV there was a prescribed slot for news, the newsreader told us what happened around the world. They chose the news that they thought were important – that was the BBC model. Then came 24X7 news channels – which were more of the same. The news space became very noisy and more shrill. The media opinions started diverging and that’s when the masses realized that all that are told to us are not truth. There was something wrong for sure, there are selection biases. The real revolution came in the form of social media and the comments section. Social media are the platforms to talk back, to show the mirror at times and refusal to a plain consumer of what news the mainstream media feeds.
The web 2.0 changed the shape of internet for good. The churning in Media 2.0 has just started. Last week there were several open letters by some prominent mainstream journalists with privileged voices. While one professed how fashionable it is being anti-national other wrote to prime minister in prominent media publication. Yes, many would have read them as they appeared in big publications.
However, the more surprising part was the numerous counter views, op-eds and videos that are circulating in social media post that open letter. Some of them are excellent fact based articulation and counter views – from ordinary citizens. They are not the best known journalists but common folks who have consumed these news earlier without expressing themselves.
Well, subjects are talking back while the mainstream media empires are panicking. We can call that they are intolerant of the reaction to the forced narratives that they created themselves.
Not all media and publications are at war with public views and the ongoing churn. Some read the public mood with changing times and not be sanctimonious. In the end, some debates set the twitter trends and some anchors discuss the good times when there was no twitter or social media.