Though we all agreed about the need to shut down shady businesses in our hometown, we debated the necessity to publish those pictures for public consumption. Scandal-mongering is an old tactic used by media houses when there is no substantial news to report. But there is another reason too- sensationalism sells. Period.
For instance, The Statesman (headquartered in Kolkata) was considered a good, clean English daily newspaper while we were growing up in Agartala. The Telegraph, on the other hand, had supplements every Thursday called Telekids which had cartoons and articles for kids, a Friday spread of movie celebrities, and a Sunday magazine, Graphiti, with articles on food, art, and lifestyle. Since the later was more entertaining to my elder brother and me for different reasons, we tried to convince our parents to start subscribing to The Telegraph instead of The Statesman. Though the editorial section of The Statesman was one of the best in the country, we pleaded to stop our substantial diet and feed on junk. I don’t remember reading one single news article in The Telegraph after the subscription changed. All I read was Telekids and Graphiti.
I am not saying that one is better than the other, but every time we pick up entertainment instead of news, we are breaking the pen of another honest reporter. The scare headlines with no substantial news live on.
When checking out at a grocery store in the US, I often see magazines with celebrity gossips lined up. The cover page has the most outrageous claims- from promises of revelations of murder and blackmail to lurid details of the divorce of a celebrity couple, who cheated whom and so on. Pick your poison. Tom Cruise? You will find a series of cover stories: (Suri) Abandoned by Daddy, Tom’s Secret plan for Suri, Why Katie Left Tom, 30-year gay secret (with John Travolta and their weeklong getaway) and Inside his(Tom’s) life alone. With $2.99, you can peep into the private lives of glamorous icons. You can be a part of their misery, happiness, wedding, bereavements. You can reach out and be a part of something influential, beautiful and unreachable otherwise.
Now, I have no issues if People publishes celebrity gossip. But if Time starts to follow suit, I will be very, very uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the articles on the Times’s page in Facebook has some of the most substandard articles with clickbait headlines. Then there is always something, ’You will never believe…’ even for the lamest facts.
The primary duty of a reporter is to report facts, without personal, moral or political bias. But they are humans too. And they have mouths to feed. If you don’t want to be served the same recycled bullshit, you have to say it out loud. You have to demand something intellectually more stimulating, social issues that matter to your community, etc. But that doesn’t happen overnight. Is our education system failing our younger generation? Is community service a compulsory subject at school? Are you taught to value your leisure and trained to utilize it for the greater good? Or a pack of tissues and a nudie mag is all you need for the weekend?
The whole system is intertwined. We can not expect moral stalwarts when the precedence is set very low. Parents can manage the microenvironment of home. But once kids step out into the real world, they will see friends either wasting time loitering in the mall or taking extra language courses for higher education in Europe. Of course, they are free to choose, but there have to be some solid examples of those walking on the right path.
I am no one to judge the mechanisms of a functional society. I wasted a good amount of time at the mall as an undergrad until I started taking the extra coaching for a foreign language. But I don’t want the future generation to make the same mistakes. I want them to be wiser than I was at their age. I want them to know what is important and come up with innovative solutions to the problems that ail us.
The women in those pictures will obviously end up being social pariahs. In a small town, a reputation is very important. The press has to be more responsible for what it chooses to report. But the responsibility is also with each one of us. Our choices build the society.