By Dr Pradeep Mahapatra
Modern mass communication trends took its roots with development and popularization of printing press during later part of Renaissance in Europe. Distribution of large quantities of reproduced text and illustration on the surface of paper among people brought revolutionary changes in administration, trade, health, education and entertainment spheres in the social fabric. It took nearly 200 years for spread of printing technologies involving moveable types worldwide. Printing remained as the dominant medium of mass communication for 300 years till popularity of radio after First World War and television after Second World War.
Importance of editing news, opinion and advertisement was evident from the earlier days of print publications. ‘News Books’ were in circulation before emergence of newspapers in Europe and Britain. During initial period reportage on a single incident was covered which gradually turning to be compilation of several reports under a title that gave rise to production of broadsheet newspapers.
Sensational rumors were given importance in content creation of News Books. Gradually private affairs of the members of royal families slipped into the pages of News Books. Upon a complaint by an European royal family about publication of derogatory remarks, the British Crown enacted ‘Star Chamber’ censorship act. As a result it become mandatory for all manuscripts to get clearance from the royal printing house ‘Stationary Company’ before printing. It is considered as one of the oldest laws of press censorship.
Question arises was there a necessity of enactment of ‘Star Chamber’ act for pre-printing censorship ? Nobody will disagree with the opinion that it is indecent to criticize a royal family of a friendly nation. But enactment of ‘Star Chamber’ proved to be a road block for spread of mass communication and only after revoke of the law the British journalism flourished. It is evident from the example that First, self-restraint is needed for publications of news, opinion and advertisement in news platforms. Secondly, on the event of journalism going astray administrative regulations are proclaimed by the rulers. Thirdly, any sort of restrictions produce negative effects in journalism.
Experienced and professional editors are employed for management of news platforms. It is the duty of the editorial board of any publication to check facts in reports, enhance quality of content and control the social effects. The editorial trend developed in the print media reflected in radio, television and digital news platforms in the later period. Professional organizations take the lead for quality control of the media in the developed nations. Even in India professional organizations of television channels have taken-over the charge of self-regulation and cards are on the table for digital news platforms. Administrative interventions in media matters can be averted only with excellence in self-regulation of media organizations.
In this background, a discussion on controversy precipitated inside and outside the country for expression of opinion presented in a television debate on an English channel about a religious leader by a spokesperson of a Indian political party gathers relevance. The case study attracts the attention of media analysts towards a few angles. First, if the television debate as ‘live’, the producer and editors usually does not have prior idea what the participants will literally say or the language part of it in the programme. Second, the facility for the producer to delete any portion of utterance in an online situation is limited. Third, the participants on the television debates are quite sure about their own point of – view and do not easily accept editing.
On the other hand, the person whose comments raised controversy, begged pardon and clarified that there was no intention to hurt the feelings of anybody. The political party suspended the spokesperson. However the turmoil continued for long. Opposition from beyond boundaries of the country threaten negative effects on trade and commerce together with the fate of migrant work force settled in certain foreign nations. It becomes difficult to comprehend such a situation arising out of a television debate.
‘The Editors Guild of India’ expressed its serious concern on the development. In a statement it mentioned that a section of television channels tend to create controversies. The statement signed by president, general secretary and treasurer further mentioned, “some of these channels prompted by the desire to increase viewership and profit were seemingly inspired by the values of Radio Rwanda”
‘Radio Rwanda’ is a glaring example of social unrest fuelled by mass communication. Government owned ‘Radio Rwanda’ and sponsored private ‘RTLM’, two radio stations propagated hatred towards minority communities in African nation during 1993 and 1994. It resulted in genocide killing 8,00,000 civilians. The campaign is marked as a darkest period in the history of mass communication.
Opportunities for correction of news and opinion is wide open in the traditional media platforms. Professionals are available to carry out the task of editing. On the other hand, spread of social media during 21st century eliminated the role of editors as intermeditories, between the source and audience for publication of news, opinion and advertisements. Further use of artificial intelligence and machine learning in distribution of content in social media platforms has promoted polarization of views due to redundant news circulation among the audience. It has turned to be a threat for social harmony. In such a disturbing situation self regulation of mass media platforms appear to be the best solution.
Television is leading among the news platforms in India by 2022. Several precautionary steps may be undertaken to safeguard the negative effects of the medium. First, opinion related television debates should not be aired live. Recorded programmes will create opportunity for rigorous editing which in turn will guard the quality and ethics in broadcasting. Secondly, professional organizations and civil society should invest resources to create mechanism for regular review of mass communication products which will result in quality evaluation. Thirdly, each and every media worker needs in-service training on emerging trends. Efforts for disseminating new knowledge by news platforms, professional organizations and educational institutions can yield results. These are few stray thoughts for development better news and opinion editing environment in media circles.
(English translation of the original Odia newsletter circulated by the author on June 10, 2022. https://tinyletter.com/pradeepmahapatra/letters/message-253. It is an open-source content, free for translation, reproduction and circulation)