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When Capitalism Undermines the Ethics of Journalism

Journalism – the supposed safeguard of democracy. People believe that even when the judiciary fails, journalists would come to their rescue. But unfortunately, with increasingly many news houses driven by capitalistic tendencies, is journalism ‘pure’ anymore?

I think that many of you would remember the infamous ‘TRP Scam’ case alleged against various media houses, including the leading news channels of the country. Though this is not the first time such allegations have surfaced, it is the first time something such as this has garnered such high publicity – owing to the high-profile stature of the persons involved. This case, though it hasn’t been proved yet, is something of a whistleblower – for it was the first to shed a spotlight on capitalism in journalism and how it’s eroding the ethics of the profession.

“Journalism is the First Rough Draft of History”

When I initially read DU Beat’s articles, at the end of some articles, there is a particular quote “Journalism is the first rough draft of history” – a quote that has repeatedly fascinated me. But now, unfortunately, a disclaimer has to be added to it: Journalism is the first rough draft of history – Keep it that way, please! This is a stark reminder of the state of journalism in today’s capitalistic world – where news agencies are not driven by the pure motive of disseminating information, rather are driven by money – just like capitalism dictates. That has what started the whole TRP scam litter if you ask me. This warrants the question: What is capitalism doing to journalism? 

As long as journalism was confined to the papers, all was well & good; was relatively unaffected by demons. But when news forayed into the domain of television media, that’s when capitalism reached out and started to drag journalism along with it. And one might ask that news channels have been around for around 50 years, – so, why is the lack of ethics acutely felt only now?

The answer is digitization. Till around ten years ago, the only news channels around were popular, established organization. However, with the age of the internet ushering in, many & many started setting up agencies of journalism – or something in that name. Due to this, a lot of content is available to people now and each one is competing with the rest for the attention of the consumers. The result is that news channels have to use new and newer gimmicks – glitzy templates, ‘flash’ news and the like – if they want to stay on top of the competition so that they can earn even more money. 

‘Is It All Just For Money?’

But the truly worrying aspect of this is that the news agencies are pulling out all the stops in this venture – editors are not questioning themselves if the information they are casting is true, ‘investigative’ journalists apparently don’t know about privacy, and journalists are compromising their ethics. ‘All for just money?’ is the question that arises in my mind, for there are some things much more important than money – and the work journalists do & the ethics governing them is one of them.

Journalism should be…pure. Unadulterated. That is why it occupies such a position in society – it is one of the cornerstones of a democratic society. And when that journalism is polluted, it pollutes the society itself. The atmosphere becomes hostile and chaos reigns – much like the society I am in now.

But, going by Sophocles, “There’s nothing in the world so demoralizing as money” and that’s why I believe sincerely journalism can further flourish only if journalism and capitalism are separated – unravel the reach they have into each other. Right now, news channels are competing to capture the attention of the consumers, but it would be far, far better than it channels compete to win the trust of people – by presenting them with authentic facts and unbiased news. And this can be only achieved if newspapers become non-profits – capitalism thrives only as long as profit exists and when you remove it out of the equation, bam! – you get capitalism-free pure (as far as it goes) journalism.

Is State Ownership of Media a Solution?

However, this is a rather novel idea whose course has not been charged yet and is fraught with difficulties, to be honest. On one side, benefactors contributing to the non-profits might influence the newspapers to act and report in their benefits. To prevent this, state ownership of journalism is a way ahead – but again, with the state being the way it is, it might also result in pro-government news propaganda, further eroding democracy and its ideals.

What I am trying to say from all this is that the upholding ethics of journalism is in the hands of journalists ultimately. There are journalists who follow their ethics even at the cost of their earning, respect and even their life. It is their acts of genuine journalism that is holding the fabric of democracy – for they are the beacons that light up the society which has been darkened by the misinformation, biased journalism and no-holds-barred news that is being spewed by most of the mainstream media. I call the entire journalist community to follow their example – please.  

Harish Neela Lingam B

[email protected]

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