Debating the future of a trivialised media

Before attending the Asian College of Journalism’s Class of 2014 inaugural lecture, I had a rough idea of what to expect. The lecture delivered just that, and more. Journalist, writer, film-maker, the editor of the New Left Review and ‘international citizen’ Tariq Ali is an Oxford graduate of British Pakistani origin, and a prolific writer.His talk was titled ‘Journalism in the 21st century: Celebrities, trivia and whistle-blowers’.

Now, this is something familiar to us. Content connected to celebrities, trivia, whistle-blowers make up a chunk of our collective information and, if nothing else, people have one of these things to talk about.

Tariq Ali seamlessly connected several burning issues like whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s revelations, the conflict in Syria, the US-Afghan war, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, elections in Greece and the economic crisis in Europe, to name a few.

He traced the history of an actual free press to the Cold War when papers in the West gave space to dissident voices, even if was just to show their enemies how superior they were.

He noted that the words ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy,’ not ‘capitalism,’ were used by the West to show the USSR how different they were.

This was when the western media was at its peak, unlike today when most of the media is in the hands of a few. He emphasised it was important to not forget the history and development of journalism.
Trivia and celebrities

With wry humour Tariq Ali said, “Even then there was important stuff like news on who is dating whom, who is making which movie, who has how many children but that was in the magazines.”

Once it started entering mainstream journalism after the end of the Cold War, “the media began telling the people your models have to be celebrities”.

“The hysteria after Diana’s death was astonishing,” he said. News was dumbed down, provincialised and exaggerated. This quickly plagued the media and spared none of the newspapers.

For contemporary examples, we only need to look at the coverage of Sanjay Dutt’s case, and the wait for Prince William’s baby to realise how narrow our journalism has become.

“More corporate conglomerate control will lead to more trivia and trivialization of news,” he said.

He hailed Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden as pioneers. He said that the development of capitalism had produced its own contradictions, of first providing a free Internet and then trying to control it.

He said the media was rapidly taking the US line on Snowden and “shooting the messenger instead of analysing what was revealed”.

“The media in Britain, America and some in Europe have started referring to Snowden, not as a ‘whistle-blower’ but, as a ‘fugitive’ as if he is a criminal,” he said.

On India refusing asylum to Snowden he said, “the instant reflex to deny asylum without a polite explanation was shameful”.
Dying print media

Speaking about falling subscriptions and the eventual death of the print media, he asked: “The question is how long will the print media last?”

He explained that books and cinema, which people had were also predicted would die, had not.

So the print media stood a fair chance if it offered somethingthat its newer counterparts did not, like longer investigative pieces.

“Learn from the old craft, and adapt to the new media,” he advised.

He also said that “speed is one bad thing about the Internet. Some things need more time.

If speed takes over serious and reflective journalism then it is a threat. Twitter and Facebook say nothing but me, me, me!”

After attending several lectures at ACJ – as student, employee, alumna – I have come to realise that the institution has a penchant for shocking its new students, who have turned to journalism after experimenting with other fields and professions, with the news that the print media is dying.

While television, new media and radio students can be grateful for choosing the right stream, print students can only hope they land a job at the end of the year.

(Mahima studied at the M.O.P. Vaishnav College for Women, Chennai.)

साभार : द हिंदू

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