Media Sensationalism

Quoting the American Muslim minister, Malcolm X, it has been rightly said that “The media’s the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power, because they control the minds of the masses”.

Media is one of the stronghold of any democracy. It is that pillar of the society that is expected to play a constructive role in strengthening democratic values. Media helps anyone in a democracy to be heard. It is a medium which helps the message of the general public to be delivered across to a wider audience. It has been rightly said, “Media can sway opinions”. It can be for the good or for the bad, but it definitely does sway your opinion. 

But over the years, media, which is required to be the eyes and ears of the masses, in the competition for increased circulation and monetary benefits, have begun sensationalizing the news. This strategy varies from omitting various key points to over-hyping facts to present biased impressions on events which may cause a manipulation to a story’s truth. This basically can be termed as Media Sensationalism.

One of the best examples of Media Sensationalism is that of the circulation battle between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst over the Spanish-American war. Even though the correspondents working under Hearst assured him that there were no problems and that there would be no war, Hearst responded, “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”

On February 15, 1898, the US warship, USS Maine, exploded due to unknown reasons. But both Pulitzer and Hearst saw that as an opportunity and were quick to jump to conclusion that USS Maine was blown up by an enemy torpedo, although they didn’t have enough evidence. Still, they had such an effect on the masses that they drummed up USA public opinion to go to war with Spain.

Indian media is also not far from sensationalizing the news. Media has become glamorized. News anchors have become more important than news. Views are presented as news. Negative news gets more TRPs than the positive news. Indian media is also a part of the fraternity that believes more in sensationalism than in credibility.

Did you know that during the Nepal earthquakes that happened last year, there was a hash-tag on Twitter, namely #indianmediagoback, which was reportedly started by the people affected by the earthquake because of the inhuman way in which the Indian media was covering the Nepal earthquake? “How do you feel that your only son is dead?”-asking this question was one of the acts that triggered the mass outrage over Indian media. Indian correspondents also used to disturb rescue workers just to ask questions like, “What technology are you using for the rescue operations?”. All these acts prompted the affected people to appeal for the return of the Indian media.

All said, media is there to stay. But the cut-throat completions have driven the Indian media to prefer sensationalism rather than credibility. Media must act in a responsible and should reinforce the trust people show in it. Sensationalism just provides short-term benefits, but in the long run, erodes people’s trust in the media as a reliable, accurate and unbiased information provider. The currency of news journalism is credibility and sensationalism can never replace that.

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