An interview recently broadcast by one of the mainstream broadcast media institutions had a former high level official of the Nepal Police as the guest. He had recently been freed on a controversial court order after serving a prison sentence on conviction of
murder. It was only obvious that he would exploit the leverage of the media platform, and he did just that by denying outright all charges levelled against him.
Viewers must have watched the interview dumbfounded because the conversation had not just turned all the previous discourse on the case upside down, but had also served as a tool for an accused person to cleanse himself of all allegations in witness of the public.
The programme at the least might have left the audience disillusioned, addled about the actual truth on the matter.
At a time when the whole country is thankful to Nepal Electricity Authority MD Kulman Ghising for bringing an end to the regularised power-cuts, it seemed pointless when TV programme producers were hosting the former official of the Authority. The erstwhile
official took the opportunity to justify the suffering meted out to the people during his term. Moreover, he didn’t waste time in taking credit for the ongoing improvements at the NEA. The one thing that clearly reflected here was his attitude that was bereft of sensitivity towards the public’s sentiments.
In a similar sequence, another interview with a former minister embroiled in corruption charges raised criticisms from various quarters on its timing as it was run while the investigation was under way.
The discussion here is not about the interviewees or the allegations levelled against them, or even the degree of integrity in their dispositions. It is more about how, sometimes, the media, forsaking the values it should stand for, gives platforms to anyone and anything that triggers viewership traction, a motive where ethical media standards are put on a trivial front. The interview programmes are just representatives of abundant media contents in our country.
It can be a complex standing point if responsible and dignified journalism is overshadowed by a sole motive of financial interest. Sadly, this complexity has overwhelmed a few outlets in Nepal’s media landscape. Questioning what factor necessitates the media to provide prime time forums to high profile people accused of corruption and defendants of sub judice cases among others on timings disproportionate to the larger harmony, proves this. What kind of media ethics does a show presenter adhere to by entertaining defendants of cases under investigation? Had the interview format been guided by the principles of accountability and social justice and a notch of human sensitivity, it would have been worthy of exemplifying. Instead, given how a few
shows are presented, critical viewers are left speculating on the nexus between the journalists and the interviewees.
The implications of this kind of media outputs can be far-reaching. While all media publications reach the public with the same information, their registration can vary depending on the literacy capacities of the people of different social conditions. As opposed to the minority circle of literates who are able to critically absorb the media contents, majority of the people in Nepal have the tendency to follow the media information quite blindly. The question on the media’s impact on the public here relates with how it fares with this larger latter population.
Each media publication is powerful in the sense that it contains the basis for people to form their opinions. And in a country like ours where media literacy among the majority of the people is very low or even unheard of in the wider public circles, the pen does hold the might in the literal sense of the word. This situation asks for media’s improved accountability towards the people.
Although it did not go down well with the media fraternity when Donald Trump popularised the term ‘fake news’, sadly it cannot be denied that there exist degrees of media platforms being used to disseminate inaccurate and unverified information. The matter is exacerbated in the social media. Content-hungry quasi-journalists are not shy of presenting us sub-standard products if they have the potential to go ‘viral’. On the other hand, the competency limitations of social media users in segregating this kind of contents beckons, again, the need for media literacy.
As communication channels keep increasing by the day, it has become even more imperative for people to be able to discern the reason behind the creation of media contents, analyse their presentations and evaluate their messages. From an ironical angle,
the desired ability is an education to get a better understanding of the media with the purpose guided by the media’s own principles of accuracy, balance and credibility. It is a waste of conscious minds when no action is taken against the wrong and it is left to sustain.
For prosperity of good social norms, opportunities should be denied to those who have been deliberately responsible for irredeemable disgrace, especially where the larger public have been at the receiving end. The media’s role in this can be vital, in promoting a responsible practice and maintaining it.
It is evident that people seeking to exert influence to advance their social status see the media first as a tool of amplification. It is up to the institution to run on ethical, professional and moral grounds. Among other things, what binds the media to the society is its responsibility towards the society. Boycotting a proposal, unfazed by any relative pressure or interest, if it doesn’t bode well for the welfare of the people and society would definitely be a good practice that fits well in this responsibility.
Gurung is a communications professional