Positivity in Media

By Nita Chicooree-Mercier

Heavy tolls caused by a deadly pandemic worldwide, climate change disasters and mounting tensions among rival nations are far from instilling a dose of joy in daily news dished out to the public. Presumably, India Today’s initiative to launch a Good News Channel is to balance the gloom and doom picture and nuance the series of negative messages sent to the people at every hour of the day.

In fact, Indian news channel or any other mainstream press outlets, in big and small countries, must be aware that systematic negative portrayal of everything under the sun – from the ruling parties’ performance to social development and superficial surveys of devastating world news – raises questions about the media’s fair reporting and analysis of events, at a time when television and newspapers face competition from social media networks that allow people to dig for deeper insight into events from other sources, create groups, share information, express opinion and interact with others freely. The positive aspect of social media is that it allows users to tune in to good news as well.

Democratic societies broadly agree on the duty of media to act as a counter-power to elected ruling teams that are prone to abuse political power and govern in all opacity. A fairly informed public in modern societies does not expect the media to act as bootlickers of governments. Politicians are far from being a monolithic block of integrity and honesty. Temptation to resort to corrupt means and use crony capitalism to feather their own nests is prevalent in even advanced democracies, mainly during pre-electoral periods. Media are expected to investigate and grill politicians in case of wrongdoings. However, despite a few flaws, governments in democracies strive to improve the living conditions of people, reduce social injustice, improve general welfare and promote human dignity by allowing free speech to the public.

A fairly educated public is also aware of the fact that media outlets, press and television channels, are not a monolithic block of independence, impartiality and honesty. If the executive has to undergo the scrutiny of the fourth power and constantly be checked by them, on what grounds should private media be looked up as an immaculate class of people to whom the public should surrender their intelligence and gobble down whatever narrative is peddled by them? In some cases, ‘independent’ media in big countries and small islands is a big joke, not to mention that vested interests of private groups in big media corporates need no introduction. Often, media outlets act at the behest of the economic, political and ideological agenda of their sponsors, and behave like stooges to promote sectarian interests. Yet, they broadly do their duty of investigating and informing the public on key topics. The point is that since media also have the power to influence the public, any attempt to distort facts and manipulate public opinion by insidious active involvement in partisan politics has to be denounced and exposed to the public by other figures than media spokespersons.

What India Today means by broadcasting a Good News Channel is yet to be seen. A rosy-coloured picture of the overall economic and social situation is surely not what the Indian public or any other country is looking forward to. They are self-confident and mature enough not to go into fits of paranoïa when fair criticism of social flaws, underdevelopment and backwardness are splashed in the media. In other words, they have no issue with reality. What media can do is to also highlight achievements by central and state governments in thousands of villages, focus the lens on improved infrastructure, cleanliness campaigns, government allowances for construction of millions of toilets, the benefits of electricity to remote villages, the use of small solar panels for cooking, how modern facilities change the lives of villagers, aids granted to promote education among the underprivileged classes, etc. Also, highlight the investment in Science and Technology, and education in general, publish reports by the public on their satisfaction with their everyday life and so on.

They could similarly shed light on solidarity organizations like Sai Baba which generously give food to thousands of people daily using solar energy, and associations which fly to the rescue and help of victims of natural disasters in other countries including America. These are positive news that are not mentioned by international news agency, let alone mainstream world television channels where India is non-existent, and whenever it is mentioned (like on Al-Jazeera) it is bound to be negative.

A degree of positivity is what the public at large expects to find in daily reporting and broadcasting of events. The role of counter-power in free societies has led some media outlets to feel entitled to run down the Establishment, level cheap criticism at whatever looks like ‘élite’ classes and sling arrows at majority groups in multi-ethnic societies while promoting the victim status of minorities, with the end result of disrupting social harmony. Media with a leftist bent also feel inclined to de-construct the foundation of a country’s civilizational ethos in a grotesque mimicry of their western counterparts, a disastrous exercise which fosters self-hate and encourages hostile forces to propagate.

This is a phenomenon which has blown up in the face of the élites in western societies in recent years. It is the outcome of the stances taken by irresponsible intellectuals and media outlets. Being ‘against’ the government does not equate to brushing a dark picture of everything in a country. Allegations of being ‘anti-national’ and ‘anti-patriotic’ in extreme cases come as no surprise from ruling party’s leaders in moments of exasperation. If the press feels free to shoot right and left, politicians also have the right to answer back. It is not a self-proclaimed one-way unilateral attack against the authorities. The press is far from being inclusive and tolerant of counter-views to their editorial lines in online comments or readers’ corner, which is totally undemocratic and autocratic.

The point is that the public cannot be taken for a ride and fooled by a few media spokespersons, as in Mauritius, who display the arrogance the French language confers on them and adopt a condescending and patronizing tone in addressing one and all. The fact is that members of the ‘élite’ class in the public are more learned and well-versed in major issues which are peddled to them from a pedestal by a handful of press people.

More than dishing out ‘good news’, mainstream media would be more productive and useful to the public if they review the culture of sensationalism aimed at stirring immediate emotions rather than reasoning with well-informed arguments based on proven facts and drawn from reliable sources.Otherwise, they squander people’s time in sterile parrotting and useless blah blah blah. In Mauritius, it boils down to warm-blooded folks shouting themselves hoarse on private radios in interaction with anchors whose general command of topics discussed is questionable while their political motivation is quite clear. It is good business for the radios, keeps the temperature high while making people happy to hear their own voices on the air. We had plenty of that stuff during lockdown last year when we were glued to radios, and had to put up with every event being disproportionately politicized by groups who pursue different agendas rather than than caring for national interest.If anything, it was and still is pathetic.

As things stand, there are enough causes for worry in the world, but life also goes on beautifully. No one in his right mind wants to start the day with solely bad news, and go to bed with the same negative news which give sleepless nights. As of today, there are plenty of sources for reliable standpoints, and the quest for truth ranks high in priorities. So, any subterfuge to confuse the public and manipulate emotions and opinions is bound to fizzle out sooner or later.

Media outlets are pivotal to the smooth balance of powers in modern societies. A high degree of impartiality and honesty in reporting, and an uncompromising demand for facts from all stakeholders are to be upheld. Distortion of truth out of cowardice or for hidden agendas, and an all-black picture of one’s country and the world end up alienating the public.

GBN (Great Britain News) recently took shape to counter the negative effect of BBC which is more concerned about not hurting the sensibilities of groups X and Y and depicting the world in simplistic binary terms of good and bad, the powerful and the oppressed, the poor and the rich, majority versus minority victims narrative than telling the truth. Blatant bias by anchors on the Afghanistan issue is one recent example. Loads of people have had enough of mainstream world media’s biased stances.

Leave the beaten tracks of sensationalism and ideological bias, and be inclusive of positive experiences and events that also reflect reality and truth – this is the way forward for struggling media outlets in light of growing competition from social media sources.

* Published in print edition on 24 September 2021

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