How Media Failed in an Hour of Crisis

 Prof.  Pradeep Mathur, Delhi

Prof Pradeep Mathur

  The battle against Corona Virus continues and by all accounts it is going to be a long-drawn affair. To conclusively defeat the enemy we have to keep looking at our battle strategy and revise it as and when necessary.

  The media, independent as well as government controlled, has been an essential component of the strategy. In a situation where every bit of information can save precious human lives, media’s critical importance cannot we over emphasized. Now the question arises whether media has played its role properly or not. And if not, why?

 The fact is that like others agencies  the media world in India was not prepared to face the challenge thrown by Corona crisis. It completely ignored the dark signs on an horizon fast getting darker and kept itself busy with usual affairs like Delhi elections, protests against CAA, controversial and provocative statements of politicians, political bickering, communal riots, in Delhi and President Donald Trump’s visit to India. What to say of the impending Corona crisis any health and human development story was hardly visible in  mainline media in the preceding weeks. Like the government in the South block it became aware of the situation only which the wolf was at the door.

The crisis threw major challenges before the media and revealed how ill prepared it was to cover and report on the situation for its audience. Media coverage of Corona crisis ,therefore,has been grossly inadequate, illogical and unintelligent. It has shown no depth and no understanding  of the crisis and its impact on the society.

          In fact media coverage, without any known exception has been :

Ø Driven more by fear psychosis then by a cool and thoughtful assessment of the gravity of the problem. When it was supposed to enlighten it frightened.

Ø Largely conditioned and guided by response to the crisis by a government which itself was ill-informed, inattentive, inadequately prepared and was fighting the charge of a delayed action

Ø The government’s panic reaction to the situation by ordering an absolutely unplanned lockdown was never questioned by the media. It did not think about its implications on the society and economy.

The media has so far repeated what government health authorities have been saying about the disease, its incidence and treatment. It has not cared to  take opinion of  private medical practitioners of standing  and experts in  alternative medicine systems .

The media has so far repeated what government health authorities have been saying about the disease, its incidence and treatment. It has not cared to  take opinion of  private medical practitioners of standing  and experts in  alternative medicine systems .

 

More over  hardly any stories were  done on independent assessment of  medical facilities – the number of hospitals, hospital beds, doctors, nurses and other paramedical staff available. Whatever data government sources were given was believed by newspersons as gospel truth. The coverage showed that the media had no mind of its own.

It is surprising that independent media could not foresee the implications of sudden and unplanned lockdown in a country where at least 20 crore people are daily wage earners with no social security backup.

For the  migrant labour crisis, a big  man-made calamity, media is as much responsible as the government. Bureaucrats running the government may be incapable of viewing our society  from outside their urban middle class mindsets, but newspersons cannot afford this luxury.

Media is  vox  populi( voice of people) and it was the job of media to have foreseen  the impact of this lockdown on the poor masses . Now doing sentimental stories on the misery of migrating workers and their families is of little use.

Why our media abjectly failed to first see the crisis that was building  up close to our borders and then to foresee the impact of ill-conceived measures including the unplanned lock-down, to tackle the situation ?.

There could be many reasons but the root lies in poor media education and training of journalists  and their improper understanding of the social environment in which they function. Lack of professionalism and personal values and attitudes towards larger segments of society is also a factor.

There could be many reasons but the root lies in poor media education and training of journalists  and their improper understanding of the social environment in which they function. Lack of professionalism and personal values and attitudes towards larger segments of society is also a factor.

A time has come when all those who are involved with education, training and nurturing of young media minds should sit together, debate as to what is wrong with news media and take effective steps to correct its course. If corona crisis makes our media teachers and trainers aware of the need to change the perspective and pedagogy then it   would have served at least some purpose.

The author, a veteran journalist and a former Professor at IIMC, New Delhi, is editor of Mediamap, a monthly thought journal on current affairs.

    

 

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