Random Thoughts

Sensationalism and the Media

The tabloid press in India sells far fewer papers as compared with the broadsheet newspapers and are largely confined to the metros. On the other hand it is no secret that tabloids in England sell more than newspapers and earn more advertising revenue.

At the same time over the past few years in India, there has been what can only be called a 'tabloidisation' of the national newspapers with major newspapers like the Hindustan Times and The Times of India printing a separate section on the city. This section of the paper is generally flush with photographs of glamorous personalities and is accompanied by a write up that is a mish mash of juicy tidbits and gossip from the filmi, fashion and corporate worlds. It does however remain within a certain code of decency.

It can be said therefore that over the last decade or so the national press has become less serious sensing an interest in its younger readership for more lighthearted fare. By introducing lighter fare that accompanies the more serious pages the newspapers have increased their readership and simultaneously kept the tabloids at bay, for the tabloids do not then have anything special to offer.

Can we envisage a time in India in the not to distant future when tabloids will overtake the broadsheets in terms of sales? This could happen only with the emergence of a yet greater appetite within the reading public for even greater sensationalism and stories with sexual overtones. For it would not suit the broadsheets to carry overly salacious material even on its city pages. They are already walking a tight rope in this regard. They would lose stature and all sense of serious debate and opinion were they to do this and further alienate its conservative readership, which is already unhappy with the increased focus on fashion and gossip in the city pages.

Tabloids have the advantage of keeping a smaller number of staff on their payrolls and their overheads are also less. This is true even with the hot selling Sun or Mirror in the UK as compared with big newspapers such as The Times or The Guardian.

With the emergence of Cable (and now Satellite) television in India there has come about an increased awareness and with it notions of morality too are changing. While this can be seen to be positive in some respects, there are negative consequences as well. It can be seen therefore that with respect to television drama, adulterous affairs are thrown into serials to spice them up even where the story line does not demand them. This has tended to lower the general quality of serials.

With respect to the print media, the quality of the writing in a tabloid is generally inferior to that of a newspaper. The views are also less sophisticated and not nearly as well presented or argued. It can even be said that tabloid journalists are instructed by their editors to write in a simple fashion (if not more grossly).

'There is some truth in such an observation,' admits Gavin Evans, a practicing journalist of many years who now teaches journalism at the London School of Journalism (LSJ). 'The only thing that I can say is that you do need a certain kind of ability to come up with the puns the tabloids often come up with.'

Serious students of journalism however often evince reluctance to work for the tabloid press. 'I would never ever consider applying for a job with a tabloid,' says Myles Myall, a student at the LSJ, who previously studied Russian politics and is keen to report and make journalistic contributions on events happening in Russia. In India, as yet the tabloids offer few jobs to wannabe journalists but this could change in the future.

Yes, tabloids as opposed to the broadsheets survive on sensationalism. ' "Twelve Year Old Brutally Raped and Butchered, Why Can't Britain Kich This Man off Out of the Country, This Man is Poison, Gay Man Sells Sperm to Lesbian Couple for One Pound ...."   These are a small sample of the kind of headline that will scream at the reader in the United Kingdom. The journalists who write for them are careful to use shorter sentences and simpler English even while writing features as opposed to news reports. They are after all writing for an audience whose core readership is relatively less educated as compared to the readership of a national newspaper.

Is this then part of what Nobel Laureate VS Naipaul refers to as the 'plebianisation' of English culture? The unfortunate side effect of wide spread literacy. It is all very well to argue in favor of freedom of speech and say: 'Let a thousand flowers bloom'. On the other hand it is not difficult to have sympathy with the somewhat elitist hope that even when censorship laws are loosened in India - as they inevitably will in time to come - the British kind of tabloid press will not emerge in the country in any major way.  


More by :  Rajesh Talwar

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