Monday, July 9, 2012

No News is Good News - The News Cartel vs The Truth

Understanding the hidden nexus between news and entertainment

Some wise person once said, in words I roughly remember to say "I am not worried about the things I see.. It is the things that no one sees that I am worried about". The problems we know of  - corruption, hunger, pollution..  even war - pale in comparison with the hidden equations that ruin our world.

One of the weirdest ones that I've noticed - more so of late - the hidden nexus between Entertainment and News.  Everyone knows that News today is all about celebrities and movies and sport. That is not what I am talking about here.  What is not so obvious is that even the news that doesn't talk about what bra Kareena Kapoor is wearing this week - the news that self proclaimed intellectuals slurp each day from the morning newspaper along with their cup of coffee - is manipulated in ways we don't realize.

Many people are aware of the grossest and most obvious form of corruption of  News - which is the selling advertisements as news. This is so ridiculously rampant in the Indian news media that you should really suspect anything that you read in the newspapers. All you have to do is to read the oddly named "Realty Section" to understand that these articles are written by the builders themselves and not by any reporter or editor. There have been many reporters who have approached me or people I know offering to have articles published about the companies I worked for. I think the Times-of-India had (has?) an official policy of selling news placements!

Most news in India is just paid advertising - The payment is made directly to the paper or by buying alcohol and other gifts to reporters
They don't even make an attempt to cover this up. I don't know what angers me more - that they manipulate the news.. or that they do it in such a crude and blatant way that shows their arrogance and the low opinion they have of the intelligence of their readers. And this doesn't even touch upon the vast majority of stories where reporters write articles for a drink or some trinkets or on a quid-pro-quo basis for their friends and donors.

Entertainment is "Switching Off" from life.  And it is expensive to keep people entertained. And so, it is good business.
Anyways, going back to the main focus of this write up, we come up with the question of what exactly is entertainment. I define entertainment here in simple terms as "Switching Off" from life. Entertainment is stuff that doesn't affect you. It excites your emotion without any reason that is connected to reality. It is about things you don't plan to do anything about. That does not concern your life's mission - which in turn can be defined as whatever it is - without judgement - that you want to do with your life.

The key thing here is that entertainment is expensive. Because, someone has to create this reality with effort - to make it look "real" enough to fool your mind.

To make money with news it has to resemble entertainment. It has to be sensationalized. It should be blown out of proportion.
So, one way to make money with news is to make it resemble entertainment. It has to be sensationalized. It should be blown out of proportion. If a man gets hurt in an accident, reporting just that is not sufficient. The newspapers and channels have to show blood. They have to collect statistics over the past 2000 years so that they have a number that is scary enough. They have to create fear in people for their kids or relatives who are on the road. And so on.  At this point it is no longer news but a mini movie built out of a simple incident of a man getting hurt by falling off his bicycle.

Beyond obvious manipulation, exaggeration and sensationalism, there is a level of corruption related to selection. Newspapers don't present the news in a balanced way. They only pick up the news that aligns with their points of view. Sun TV and Kalaignar TV - two large news channels in Tamil Nadu - totally blocked off the news of the arrest of Kanimozhi - the daughter of the owner of these channels -  in the multi-billion dollar 2G scam - though this was the hottest news across the country.  Another instance of this is that any complaints against Hindu Gurus or Hindu tradition is immediately picked up (and blown up several times) by most of the media in India - which incidentally is largely Christian owned. Complaints against other religions are silently ignored or toned down. The clearest proof that news is manipulated by selection is the fact that every political partly runs their own news channel and newspaper. If news were neutral, why would they need to do this?

And finally, one of the most fundamental selection bias that happens in the news media is that of negativity. It shouldn't take a PhD to recognize that almost all news in the first N-2 pages of the newspaper relate to failures of people - murders, political defeats, rapes, suicides, accidents, calamities and what not. News that is negative.  This is so widespread that you don't even recognize it as something odd. People's world view has been morphed by the constant selection of negative news and the exaggeration of it that they truly believe that the world is that way.  

The only positive news in a newspaper is about sports and Bollywood - essentially entertainment news. 
This has had terrible consequences for mankind. Our entire lives are ruined by us running to cover up the insecurities presented by this negative world view.  Life is not as scary as it is presented to us. Granted that accidents can happen. Things can go bad. But they go bad a million times less than what the newspapers want us to believe. And as such we over stock ourselves a million times more than we need. And many people die before they reach this foolish goal of theirs - wasting their entire lives in the process.

Negative news directly promotes entertainment. For, if life was good, how do you justify wasting it by starting for hours at a dumb box.
But the most evil and subtle part of this negative bias is that entertainment and news form a cyclic relationship encouraging each other.  Negative news directly promotes entertainment. For, if life was good, how do you justify wasting it by starting for hours at a dumb  box.  Entertainment - or escapism from life - can be justified only if you paint life in a bad way. Once you have established the hopelessness of living by the negative world view created by negative news selection, you can justify selling entertainment.  This is why news channels are run by entertainment companies.  They charge you for their fake news which in turn makes you buy their useless entertainment. And to top it all, both news and entertainment are just  transports for advertisements. Things that will make you passive enough that people can dump products that you don't need down your mushy minds.

It has been four years since we stopped our newspaper and TV subscriptions. And we have only had better lives for doing that..
I hate to end an article on a negative note. For one, I don't want to give more business to the entertainment companies by doing so. But unfortunately, the problem is too big for me to say something positive. All I can say is that people who feel any iota of truth in this article should stop their newspaper and TV subscriptions as quickly as they would tear up a Reader's Digest "You could be our next WINNER!" letter. It is a myth that doing this would put you out of touch with the "real" world. The news that is important for you will reach you in many ways. The internet for instance is a less pushy news medium than printed papers and TV. It has been 4 years since we stopped our TV and newspaper subscriptions. And we have only had much better lives for doing that. Even if you don't agree with much of what I wrote about in this post, you directly save 15% of your life by not watching TV or reading newspapers.  And that is quite a bit of savings by any standard.

1 comment:

  1. As a professional writer, I too have been shocked and disheartened that true journalism and investigative reporting have gone the way of the DoDo bird in India. Thank you for this well thought out article on the sad state of this once honorable profession.