Can media be totally neutral?

At first sight I found the question totally ridiculous as in my opinion, all media is ethically bound to be non-partisan and simply report facts. Well if it is that simple why is it that we have so many versions of news and why is there a following for each of them?

Why is it people snigger about the dull news reports from the government owned channels when all it does is present the news like it is: without any frills? We used to hear a lot of jokes about the dull and over cautious reporting by the newspaper The Hindu published from Chennai. It used to be said that even if an accident happened outside their office they would publish it only on PTI confirmation. And sports enthusiasts laugh about the "keen contest on the cards" predicted for every single match by the paper.

So it seems that while we complain about sensationalism of news by the media we seem to secretly encourage it too by subscribing to these channels, although not necessarily to their point of view. We like to shift channels between Jaya and Sun or NDTV and CNN- IBN to see what each has to say about an issue. We not only like to know the details of a statement by Musharraff or Manmohan Singh but we want to have an analysis of each, the interpretation of their body language and the elaboration of hidden meanings behind these statements. And when you get opinions from people belonging to different ideologies, it is bound to reflect in their opinion however erudite it is. There are so many channels just for News and every channel has a viewership - obviously they cannot all survive if they all said the same thing? What is it about the general public that makes them want to view these channels?

So in this context, is it possible for a newspaper to be totally loyal only to truth?
(like the Independent and the character depicted by Mithun Chakraborty so well in the film GURU where the criterion for publication of a news item is only that it is true.)

And in these days of grey, is there plain black and white in anything, particularly in politics? So what is more possible is that they do not publish or say something completely untrue or totally speculative. But even that seems to be acceptable in some cases as in the recent Cauvery tribunal announcement where the Television channels were constantly speculating and predicting violence in the state of Karnataka. Like preventive detection, they seem to be giving preventive cautions on what might happen based on previous trends rather than wait for something to happen and then report it without exaggeration.

Additionally, when media depends on its revenue from advertisement, is there not a kind of pressure on them not to be too harsh on their patrons?
As readers and viewers we are also happy to be exposed to different views and anlyses as it expands our thinking and presents diverse view points.The channels are obviously under pressure to grab the viewers with the result that the boundary line between reportage and entertainment is blurring.

Is is possible for media to be totally neutral in today's context? And even if it is possible, should it be neutral or should it take a stand?
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13 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Mercifully laws like the libel ensure that media cant get away with blatant lies. But they add spice by creatively speculating and getting experts to fo a big fight on the different positions. yes the differences between reporting and entertainment are getting blurred.
    New here. will come again.

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Taking a stand where it is necessary is ok but they should not end up confusing the general public. This can have severe negative impact especially in a country where educational levels are poor and people are gullible.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    My response is from my experience in the US, not sure if you can use it in your test.

    Is it possible to have unbiased reporting?
    Yes, it is possible to be totally neutral and report the news. There is Public broadcasting in the US, both radio and tv. This Center for Public Broadcasting is funded partly by the federal govt, state govt, major trust funds specifically created for unbiased reporting, the public (yes, you and me, we donate whatever we can, they take even $10) and any corporations who want to donate. No advertisements on these channels, again to insure free and fair reporting and the channels are broadcast free and available without cable connection. 4 times a year they ask for donations from the public. Some people volunteer at the station, some give money, some donate cars or set aside a portion of their will, anything and everything is accepted.

    They have a dept that comes up with measurable guidelines on fair reporting, this included the words to use, words not to use, how much time to spend reporting one political party's news etc. This dept constantly monitors the content of all programs (they broadcast a variety of programs, not just news) and publishes the results. They adjust course if they find they are leaning towards one side. Public is very much part of this process.
    The reporters working for this company are not higly paid, but it is considered very prestigious to be able to work in this journalistic tradition. The public also has high regard for the personalities and programs on this station. Public broadcasting has been around for about 75 years, I'm sure today's state of equilibrium was reached after a lot of trial and error. But it is acheivable and a goal that Indian media needs to strive for.

  4. rads Says:

    I wish news was diferent, so you get a complete rounded perspective - trains you also to think differently. Here, it's the same footage at all - CNN< NBC, ABC, CBS - right down to the traffic details or video angles.
    It's painful..

    I think biased is good. It encourages thinking naturally. On the flip side, unbiased news rests the burden of opinion on the viewer and how active his imagination can get.

  5. passerby55 Says:

    A difficult argument.

    What i wondered is if the Media remained neutral , if they opted for it. WIll it Sell? I guess NO.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    Came here on a freind's reco - good to see nice lively debates on all issues.
    My 2 cents. News is depressing as it is - wherever in the world. So why not make it entertaining. At least it makes it easy to handle. Ultimately it is for us, the readers and viewers, to see through all this and take what we want from all this.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Media should definitely take sides - take side with the right, with the truth and with justice.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    First time here and glad to see a topic right up my street.
    Media and viewers/ readers should learn to distinguish between reporting and analysis.
    Where they report, they should report the news faithfully. Yes your example of Hindu and PTI should be followed - so the reader/ viewer knows what happened or what was said.
    Then in the analysis section they can have all the circus they want, getting all the "experts" and 100 different view points. same with newspapers with the editorials and special columns where they can give their preferred twist to the news.
    But the disturbing trend is that these lines are getting smudged in media and views creep into news and analysis into reportage.
    In India, if you take regional newspapers and channels, they are owned by political parties and thrive only negative reporting about the opposition wing. it is an ongoing defamation campaign. Unfortunately the masses, the ones who need unbiased reportage, are the ones who buy into this and swear by them.
    As for national newspapers and Tv channels,they seem to have matured with globalisation and seem to be doing a pretty decent job in India. If only they could resist the tendency towards sting operations and trial by media.
    All the best for your exam. And what is the next question?

  9. Usha Says:

    Hi ppl:
    Thank you for indulging me and coming up with so many inputs.
    Vidya: It is useful for me because that helps me compare how media operates in different parts of the world. I am impressed with the concept of public broadcating.
    Our media can learn a lot from such initiatives particularly that freedom of media does not mean the liberty to say what they want.
    Thanks for the continued inputs.

    Rads: I guess it is inevitable that they take sides. But I am surprised to see that you say that they use the same formula on all channels. I'd have imagined that theyd be more original with their presentation. here sometimes they get "original" with the news itsel ( heheh, kidding!)

    Passer: I dont know the answer to the question but I hope they have some boundaries or rules for the game.

    Bha658: Thanks for the inputs. will use them. Next question- you will have to wait till monday. :)

    Lata, Rama, anon: Thank you for visiting. Hope you will stay and participate in our discussions here.

  10. Inder Says:

    the problem is that the news media have become entertainment media these days. they are after sensationalism. sad, but it is fun, isn't it? i have a good laugh at all the stupid things that the media goes after.

  11. Hip Grandma Says:

    This was discussed as cover story in India Today sometime back.I find all this sensationalism in news reporting atrocious.It seems to be worse than the cheap TV serials which seem to remain static for months together.The same news is reported again and again with a claim that their channel was the first to report the story.The report of Kavita Krishnamurty having sung at a reception at Dawood's place in 1990 much before the 1992 Bombay blasts is one example that comes to my mind.NDTV IS OKAY BUT I FIND THE REST ANNOYING EVEN WHEN IAM IN A CHARITABLE MOOD.

  12. S! Says:

    Very interesting post.

    It is impossible to to come up with "interesting" stories 24x7. So the content, by design, cannot be sensational.

    It is also interesting to me what is "sensational" around now in so connected a world.

    I think you have are correct in pointing out the role the "public" plays in such situations. Much like windows software (which for some reason everybody uses & dislikes at the same time) what sells is an economic fact. Now, that has nothing to do the 'quality' factor, but it does show that there is a market.

    I don't know really, but it does seem to me that what I spend time reading or listening to is so much more upto me than it ever was. And that can't be such a bad thing.


  13. Pradeep Nair Says:

    First, I caming to your blog after a long time. Nice to see the new look. Definitely better than the way it used to be.

    Being a journalist, I was interested in this post. More than truth, what is at variance is perception. While the occurrence of an event is a truth, the way it is looked at is and can be very different.

    With multiple sources of information nowadays, there's lot more of confusion among people's mind about the so-called truth.

    In many cases, it's very difficult to find out the truth. For eg: in crime cases, only the perpetrator of the crime knows the actual truth. Usually media depend on police, who inturn depend on witnesses and their sources.

    Media do not deliberately distort truth. Especially today, if they do so, they will be easily exposed and lose credibility...