The whole episode lacks any originality like most of the programmes that the television news channels in Kerala air! A news channel launches itself by airing a purported lurid telephone conversation between a minister and a woman. Within hours the 71-year-old minister resigns. The eight-minute-long clip was telecast on Sunday morning by Mangalam TV, a private channel that was launched by Mangalam publications, which owns a newspaper. An Indian Express report has quoted Mangalam TV CEO Ajith Kumar as claiming that the “woman had contacted the channel through a mobile number we had made public to alert Mangalam about corruption… The woman said that when she approached the minister with the petition, he started harassing her through phone calls. When it became nasty, she approached us with the recorded conversation.’’
Prima facie, it looks like a honey-trap even though only a scientific probe will reveal the veracity of this audio clip. And the conversation doesn’t point to any harassment or coercion per se. The said lady is yet to lodge any formal complaint either. The whole episode has divided the news media in Kerala. While a section of TV journalists has attacked the channel for intruding into privacy and indulging in ‘unethical journalist practice’, there have been lectures on the need for public figures to keep morality from other quarters.
The issue points to some hard truths. First of all, the so-called expose should not be read with the cases of sexual atrocities against women. The channel didn’t care to give any importance to the real issues faced by women; rather it was full of sleaze, which sees women as a sex object, exposing. Here there is a fundamental gender insensitivity in the so-called expose, because it rather asserts the general notion that seeks to put woman as a commodity.
The news appears to have been manufactured with the aim of garnering TRPs and it underscores the feeling that sleaze always sells. It also shows that the Kerala society also has to mature in terms of approaching the societal issues. However, if this news is true, there was indiscretion on the part of the political leader as he failed to anticipate the consequences in this wired world. The clamour over morality actually reflects the Kerala society’s own frustration.
Sleaze all the way
In this miasma of news channels, sleaze sells fast. And what a better way to grab attention than to go to town with sleaze? While the inaugural “explosive news” speaks as much about standards of this particular media house as it is about the general abyss television channels have fallen into, it is also a stinging commentary on the Kerala society, fed on a staple diet of trivia and insignificant news bites. What the state is witnessing is an overkill of news channels that has created a TV audience that is unaccustomed to real issues and allergic to pertinent social problems.
While playing up the carnal antics and the sexual peccadilloes of celebrities and people who hold high positions, Kerala news channels fail to take up issues that do matter. At a time when the entire state is reeling under a severe drought, one of the worst in recent memory, when sexual violence against women has reached its ugly pinnacle, the TV media can be seen basking in regurgitating prime-time nostrums, without attempting to delve deep into and discussing real issues and the many social maladies that have come to shape the contemporary Kerala society.
Kerala has always had a vibrant news media thanks to greater levels of literacy rate and an active civil society, spawning an avalanche of me-too channels. The sad fact, however, has been that majority of the programmes lack in refreshing originality or creativity in content or format. In this proliferation phenomenon, copying has become a sly art perfected by these channels.
There are more than twenty channels, of which at least ten are exclusive news channels. More and more new players keep entering the overcrowded space, despite the financial unfeasibility (Only a handful of them earn profits. Unpaid salaries running into months, pathetic working conditions, employee strikes, etc. emanate from the vaunted portals of some of the channels now).
Today, television news channels in the state have reached newer levels of hyperbole. In their alacrity to “break” the “news” before their competitors or to come up with an ‘exclusive’, facts become the first calamity. Vetting can wait. With little accountability, whoppers are either glossed over and fibs borne out of negligence or ignorance are accepted as the norm. In this ephemera of TV news, shallow reporting has become the in-thing. Glamour and ‘presentation skills’ of the reporter take precedent over even rudimentary knowledge or an understanding of social/historical complexities.
(The writer is a Mumbai-based journalist)