Media’s new face?

Standard

Two write ups over the weekend.. both on how debased the media is becoming..  The first from TOI.. and I only found it in the epaper (and no link) and the second one is Vir Sanghvi’s Counterpoint.

I

Publication: Times of India Mumbai;      Date: Jun 8, 2008;      Section: Review;      Page: 18

UNSOUND BYTES

Liar Liar

Mohammed Wajihuddin on the falsehoods that celebrities tell and the media swallows

Indian face on Dutch stamp’, screamed a tabloid headline two months ago. The accompanying report gushed about how the Dutch government had ‘honoured’ Bhojpuri film star Manoj Tiwari with a postage stamp and how he had pipped flautist Hari Prasad Chaurasia to the post. “The fact that I was chosen over a man of such stature and seniority fills me with both pride and humility,’’ declared Tiwari.

The actor basked in the glow generated by his lie for some time—last week, however, it was nailed by the curiosity of a Patna-based teenager Naval Kishor Kumar. Kumar surfed the Dutch government’s official site and wrote to its public information officer, who informed him that no such stamp existed. It turned out that the actor had bought a personal stamp from a private firm called TNT Post in the Netherlands, passing it off as a “great honour’’. And a hungry media willingly gave him space without confirming the news.

While readers are busy pouring scorn on Tiwari on websites like bhojpuria.com—“Kaa e Manoj bhaiya tohra laaj aawe ke chaahi (Brother Manoj, you should be ashamed’’)—the actor is unruffled and says his “enemies’’ are conspiring to vilify him. “The Dutch government has leased its postal department to a private organisation. So what if it’s from a private firm? After all, it’s an honour,’’ he argues unabashedly.

Tiwari isn’t the first to dupe the press and certianly won’t be the last. The media, both print and electronic, has virtually surrendered to glib, self-promoting celebrities. It has lowered its guard alarmingly, making it a cakewalk for professional PROs to manage miles of print and costly primetime for their clients, with ‘news’ which may not be true.

Take the Oscar library story. For a few years, the favourite pastime of Bollywood producers was telling the press how their film scripts had been invited to the Oscar library in Los Angeles and how overwhelmed they were by the ‘great honour’. An investigation by this newspaper in 2005 revealed that the script of any film which was released in Los Angeles was stored in the library as a matter of course. Despite the expose and a follow-up snippet, however, the hoax went on and on: the roster of ‘honoured’ films, like Ek Ajnabee, Taxi 9211, KANK, Metro, Namaste London and Chak De popped up with regularity in the press, with sundry producers, directors and actors stating how ecstatic they were. With lazy hacks who have opened the gate to film stars’ paid PROs, the next Oscar library announcement should be round the corner.

And then, of course, there’s the other great firangi hogwash, Cannes. Last week, a headline in a national daily gushed: “Cannes honour for Billa.’’ However, the Vishnu Vardhan-directed Tamil film was selected not for the fest’s competition section but the marketing one, where one can buy a screening for a little over Rs 50,000. “You can show your marriage video after buying space in the market section at Cannes. I wouldn’t be surprised if a producer did so and then touted it as a big honour in our media,” says film journalist Ajay Brahtmaj.

If it’s not ‘achievements’, stars try to use the media for other kinds of promotions. Malaika Arora and her husband Arbaaz Khan recently pulled off a brazen stunt to coincide with the ‘Renew your marriage vows’ publicity campaign of a skincare product they were endorsing—they lied to a Mumbai paper that they were splitting and Arbaaz was remarrying. A senior television reporter, who has tracked Bollywood for long, says she knows the actors who try to cleverly sell stories about their ‘vibes’ with co-actors. “They talk ambiguously like Malaika did, leading the reporter to believe that she was confirming her break-up with Arbaaz,’’ she says.

It’s not just stars who go to any extent to get publicity; even tinseltown wannabes fake connections and drop names. Recently, a little-known Trinetra Vajpayee, an engineer fighting to find a foothold as a producer, hit the headlines. His media managers told newspapers that he was former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee’s nephew, startling many journos who had interacted with him earlier.

“Trinetra always denied being related to Atalji when we asked him. Evidently he’s lying now to get into the news,’’ says a film journo. Deepak, a nephew of A B Vajpaee, claims that none of the senior BJP leader’s four nephews, has ever flirted with films. “None of my cousins is named Trinetra. I have never heard of him. We will check how this man is making this claim,’’ Deepak told TOI from Lucknow, adding sarcastically, “When Atalji was PM, I met many fake nephews outside his office.’’ When contacted, Trinetra said: “I am a distant nephew of Atalji.’’

It’s the media—which seems to have tossed all caution out of the window while covering celebs—which is the chief culprit here. Celebrity claims, say old hands, need to be taken with a pinch of salt and verified. Yet, this parameter is astonishingly sidestepped by the entertainment media.

“Sometimes we take a risk and believe what the stars or their PROs peddle,” admits Live India’s Parag Chasekar who has worked with the entertainment wings of Star and Zee. “Independent investigation requires time and patience. These days, journos have little patience.’’

Big stars are always “accessible” to impatient journos. This army of journos keep readers updated on the stars’ great accomplishments through their regular laudatory bulletins on them. Even Manoj Tiwari’s lie about receiving the great honour from the Netherlands was first peddled through one such prolific Patna-based journo.

Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief, CNN IBN, however, feels it is unfair to blame the entire media. “It’s the irresponsible media which doesn’t check facts before it broadcasts or prints news,’’ he says. “There is a section of people who have entered the media with an ulterior motive. They are not concerned either about quality or credibility in journalism. Their goal is to get to the wheel of politics or get a certain valuation in the market. But then the entire media cannot be blamed for the misdeeds of a few. It’s easy to bash the media but let’s remember there are good media and bad media, credible media and non-credible media.’’

Increasingly more of the latter, unfortunately. TNN

—————-

II

Another pov

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