Yellow Journalism may not be a term which many in India are familiar with. But that doesn’t mean it’s not here. Rather, the truth is that it is very much existent in India and being unaware of it, we are in a way exposed to its effects; to be precise ill-effects. At a time when journalist Gauri Lankesh has been brutally murdered for raising her pen to brought to light the unholy nexus between fake news and politics in India, we probably need to analyze and understand the menace of yellow Journalism so as to evade from its harmful effects.
But before we proceed further and analyze the effects of yellow journalism, let’s first understand what “Yellow Journalism” is.
Wikipedia defines Yellow journalism, as a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. In a more simple language we can say yellow journalism is nothing but creating hype or making masala news to attract readers and viewers in order to increase the TRP and get more publicity.
But that’s not all about Yellow Journalism in modern era. The act of Yellow Journalism is not only performed to boost sales or viewership and gain more market share but also to build public opinion, for or against something which the media houses decides, keeping their own gain in mind.
There lies very little or no apparent difference between “Journalism” and “Yellow Journalism” for an ordinary reader. So, to have a better sense of what Yellow Journalism is we must first consider what Journalism is.
Journalism and Yellow Journalism
Journalism is the process of collecting, writing, publishing news reports and other articles for newspapers, journals, television and other related media. Unfortunately in the present day, journalism has ceased to be as simplistic as that.
Rather than simply stating the truth and making people aware of “significant” changes around us, it focuses on presenting an exaggerated and perverted version of the news events.
Most of the respected journalists world over does think that the line crossed into yellow journalism when the reportage told the reader how to think. Putting someone or something in black or pink colours, and thus pushing the reader towards a pre-determined conclusion has become rampant in the recent years and has taken the form of an epidemic spreading widely in media circles.
Onset of Yellow Journalism
Though it’s not possible to assign any particular date from when “Yellow Journalism” begun, but it was with the onset of rapid industrialization that gave birth to yellow journalism. Because of a sudden impetus in the newspaper machines and advancements in technology, thousands of papers could be printed in a single night. This is believed to have brought into play one of the most important characteristics of yellow journalism – the endless drive for circulation. And unfortunately, the publisher’s greed was very often put before ethics.
Be it highlighting Mallika Sherawat’s half-clad dance on New Year’s Eve, wardrobe malfunctioning of eminent heroines, presenting superstitious notions of communities or screening the catfight of a professor’s wife and his love interest, the media has left no stone unturned in order to add more to its already bulging bank account.
Yellow Journalism in India
Yellow journalism, which is fundamentally a dishonest, unethical, incredibly sloppy and uncaring form of news reporting has become widespread in the recent years and has taken the form of an epidemic in media circles. India’s top news channels are perhaps the best examples of yellow journalism. The print media, newspapers, various news websites and news magazines are all in the ambit of yellow journalism.
All this was going on for years in India. It perhaps begun in 1989, when a single newspaper’s effort in disclosing corruption at high places brought down a government which had been enjoying two-third majority in the parliament.
This tendency towards yellow journalism grew menacingly and culminated in the advent of “Tehelka” brand of journalism. It was the lowest point of yellow journalism when falsehood, political motive, manufacturing of ‘news’ with only manufacture and no news, craving for quick money and power, selling dirty sex and working as pimps – all joined together to form what came to be known as Tehelka kind of journalism.
With time some business houses made it their habit to tarnish or clean up a leader or a party’s image to serve their own petty interest. In this process, the role of the editor and his entire team of reporting personnel are to become mere servant of the owner of the newspaper.
Even political parties use this unethical form of journalism to build up public opinion and come to power. News are manufactured every now and then in India. Person who once submitted a false Ph.D. degree as her educational qualification while filing nomination paper in parliament election has been portrayed as “symbol of honesty” by leading Indian dailies and news channels. And those who portrayed her as such were latar awarded for the favour and sent to Rajya Sabha as party candidate.
The nuisance of yellow journalism has hit such a low in modern India that most often, people don’t have access to the news in its original and unedited form. Putting someone or something in black or pink colours and thus pushing the reader towards a pre-determined conclusion, is a daily occurrence in our newspapers. Now to be a successful journalist you just need to know how to sell the news and in the process sell yourself as well.
The recent murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh who in her last editorial titled, “In the age of false news”, vociferously listed innumerable examples of how pervasive fake news has become in the time of social media and messaging platforms like WhatsApp.
Tracing several article by the website Postcard.news, Gauri squarely indicts the right-wing, which she argues is mostly responsible for the ‘lie factories’ active in the country.
In her weekly column in ‘Kanda Hage’ – presented a long list of cases of fake news that demonstrates a startling fact – that it isn’t only fringe elements but even men in the highest offices of the country doing it.
Though the endless drive for more and more circulation gave birth to what is called yellow journalism. But now media houses have understood its potentiality in governing the current of ideas in a country and controlling the course of social and political events. Putting it in a more simple word, media houses are well aware of the fact that they are capable of determining the way a nation and its people thinks.
Now-a-days it is better to say that people who control the press really govern the country. The masses react to the press suggestion as a herd of cattle obeys the shepherd. The public opinion as someone says swings like a pendulum in the clock of newspapers. And here lies the deepest concern.
Media – often called the fourth branch of government or “fourth estate” has a crucial role to play in a democracy. The newspapers not only publish news but they also mould and mend public opinion. The press is the mightiest weapons of the people against their oppressive government. It is the true guardian for their rights. As Bertrand Russell Says “The journalist holds up an umbrella protecting society from the fiery hail of conscience.”
The government would be less responsible, the judges less honest and police less efficient if there be no journals and newspapers to criticize their conduct. The press is therefore great mentor which stands against the misuse of power and miscarriage of justice.
So a biased and pre-negotiated news report will not only keep the masses away from the truth but will also harm the society, its people and the nation.
For example, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari had shared a picture of Muslims burning the Indian flag, and had commented, ‘On Republic Day, the Tricolour being burnt in Hyderabad’. There is a new image search app on Google. If you search an image on it, you will be able to find out where and when the picture originated. Using this app, Pratik Sinha (founder of altnews.in found out that the photo was originally taken in Pakistan during a protest by banned outfits.
Former Power Minister Piyush Goyal had recently shared a photo, boasting, ‘30,00,000 LED lamps were lighting up 50,000 kilometres of roads across India’. But that photo was also a fake. It was a picture of a Japanese street used by a company in 2009. This same Goyal had recently claimed, ‘Increase in indigenous charcoal supply in the last three years has resulted in savings of Rs 25,900 crore’. He had also a shared photo, which turned out to be fake again.”
The Way Out
For quite sometime, there has been proposal for a code of conduct for the press. But till now nothing concrete has come out and there remains an apprehension whether such a code of conduct will put a chain on truthful media reporting and become another stick in the hand of the politician.
Under the present situation when there is no legal way by virtue of which you have control on yellow journalism, you need to realize that you must not and cannot rely on any single media outlet these days. As we are totally dependent on media for all the information, we need to do some primary research on any reporting in media, may it be newspaper, journal or television.
If we rely and consume news of only one media outlet, we would become puppets in the hands of that outlet. This media outlet would then shape our opinions the way it wanted to. It’s important we the people realize this real truth and identify the nuisance of yellow journalism.
The citizen of a democratic country like India must ensure that impartial and analytical reporting does not gets overshadowed by flamboyant and irresponsible approach to news presentation that have its own hidden agenda.
Article by Tania Chatterjee, a teacher by profession and an active social activists based in Durgapur.