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An Uncultured Media
Author: Editorial column

Publication: The Navhind Times, Panaji Goa
Dated: February 2, 2001


The Controversy over the media coverage of the Maha Kumbh mela continues.   The conflict is between two streams of thought, one saying the media should be prohibited from covering scenes of mass bathing at the sangam, the other saying the media has the right to cover them, like it has the right to cover other events.   It is not easy to decide which stream is wholly correct. Nevertheless, there cannot be two opinions that the media, especially the television, is guilty of commercialising the event.  A section of the print media has joined those in the television in portraying the mela as an exotic event.  At the apparent level, the media presented to the world as though it was covering the world's greatest Hindu congregation, but in reality, as their selective reportage and photography showed, they were out to portray the mela as a gathering of mad, eccentric, superstitiously blind villagers and sadhus.

Some of the foreign television channels ran programmes on the mela which had a rich content of seemingly lunatic and incredulous activities and apparels (or none of them) of Indians who came there.  The game was to appeal to the subconscious of the European mind which has the image of Indians being an uncivilised and unelightened race, not all of whom the poor Britishers could manage to civilise.   That was to improve the viewership (the ratings, on which advertising comes) in a competitive market.   The more uncivilised, primitive, lunatic and naked the Indians looked in 21st century the more Europeans were bound to watch the show.

The Indian media was by and large discreet, responsible and respectful. A section of it, both on television as well as in print, however followed the foreign media in order to improve their ratings and readership.   This section of media is not known to be very exploratory and outgoing, but in the Maha Kumbh mela case, all bounds were broken in terms of resources and time and space.   In the name of special coverage they carried reports and photographs which others avoided.   Their unethical content was marked not only by a voyeuristic obsession but also by an unwarranted slant towards the hype and celebrities.  One section of the media gave too much spate to the proposed visits of some of the Hollywood stars, as if their coming was more important than the coming of millions of devout Hindu pilgrims.

On the correction side, there is a protest lodged by an official of the Uttar Pradesh government against a British television channel for distorted portrayal of the Maha Kumbh mela.  The question is: will it deter this channel or other foreign channels from giving a distorted coverage to the Maha Kumbh mela or such events in India in the future?  The answer is a plain no.   What about those sections of the Indian television and print media which also indulged in similar distortions in the name of the freedom of the individual and the freedom of the press?  The media coverage of the mela this time was the most commercialised and distorted ever.  With the lessons learnt this time, the authorities must place restrictions on the coverage of the mela and such religious events.  Under our constitutional safeguards against misuse of the freedom of expression reasonable restrictions can be placed on the media.

The government should also call a meeting of its representatives with those of the television and print media, both domestic and foreign, in order to work out an ethical code for the coverage of religious events like the Maha Kumbh mela.   The media must realize that the Maha Kumb Mela is an event of great religious importance to the Hindus.  Any religious event demands purity of soul, non-attachment to feelings of desire, lust and greed and dedication to faith.  The pilgrim who come to the Maha Kumbh mela from all parts oft the country,  both sadhus and commoners, come for a holy bath overpowered by these emotions.  It is only appropriate that the media men who come to communicate to the rest of the world what is happening at the Kumbh fully respect the sentiments of the devout pilgrims.   To portray pilgrims in snatches of reportage or photography that capture only the weird and the unbelievable is snobbish, uncultured and unacceptable.



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