Justice Sinha episode: Did professional media pass the test?

Afsan Chowdhury
Thursday, October 19th, 2017


Chief Justice Surendra Kumar Sinha speaks to the press outside his residence in Dhaka before leaving for the airport on October 13, 2017. Courtesy

 

Mainstream, professional or whatever paid media is called nowadays faced two crises in the latest Sinha episode. It became prone to sensational and superficial reporting and in a bid to compete with each other and social media. And it didn’t provide sufficient analytical journalism.

 

It seems that word- media is really at bay as they compete for consumer interest with social media and each other for public attention which is sometimes fed more by speculation. Since every social media account becomes a source of information and observation/opinion, it isn’t an easy life for paid media and this new scenario with multiple sources on the menu of the consumer requires a new approach which old journalism has yet to figure out.

 

Electronic media did better but not because it was proving a higher grade of journalism but of its nature which is visual.  So even though it was not more insightful than word- media, it drew more viewers. Where they made a difference was in the Talk shows where the matter was discussed widely, sometimes critically of the government and. That Talk Shows have become part of the political information culture was best also defended well by the pro-AL talkers. Anisul Huq, the Law Minister called the Talk Show participants “immature which is an endorsement of its legitimacy as an essential part of media.

 

New media is here but not new journalism

 

If the Sinha episode was a crisis, media seemed unable to cope with it in terms of both providing information and analysis. It handled the situation in a ‘breaking news’ style rather than a systemic crisis story. The Sinha regime has been in place for almost 2 years but the journalism that has followed the issue was headline driven rather than in-depth exploration of a critical matter that had shaken up the governance system.

 

Two factors appear responsible. One, there is intense competition among all the outlets, word, tv and social media. The result is pressure to be more explosive than the competition to ensure more clicks.  This is the reality of the state of media today and those who will do better will have to play with the sharks.

 

But instant journalism is only one aspect of the broader media product and it was important from a market perspective that something more be provided beyond the usual fare of ‘breaking news’.  That is where in-depth reporting would have made a difference.

 

But it’s obviously a glaring supply gap. In the coming days, the conflict will not disappear so if media wants to make a difference in their status and earn more clicks they need to strengthen capacity to report on governance and legal issues. The gaps and the needs are there and the smart media worker can take advantage of this market demand to strengthen themselves as a competitive market looks for product edges.

 

Perhaps because there was a demand but also a gap in supply, some journos turned to ‘supplied’ news usually from official sources. People were so hungry for news they may have consumed such offer but it wasn’t followed by belief. Experience shows, most such source accessing doesn’t lead to credibility though in the short run, there is attention. But over time, the idea becomes strong that such journalists are serving purposes of someone else.   One can only go so far with such a tag and no outlet will not that for precisely marketing reason.

 

Media of all sorts can therefore learn from this episode. They did well in tracking the story but not enough in unraveling it. This led to frustration among the consumers who wanted more. Analysis in word media was weak while TV depended on Talk show wisdom to cope with the situation. While that serves a part of the purpose, in-house capacity is required which is still not there. Human resource investment in capacity building would make media more attractive and competitive.

 

Social media apart from being irresponsible is also educating its users and rest of media must learn to respond to emerging demands of new journalism as the audience becomes more sophisticated and knowledgable.

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