In the great Charlotte Bronte novel Jane Eyre, the eponymous heroine, a governess at Thornfield Hall, finds herself falling in love with the gloomy master, Mr Rochester. The course of true love is marked by strange happenings, mysterious fires, weird laughter and then a wild-looking woman rips apart Jane’s bridal veil. At the wedding, the truth comes out. All along Mr Rochester was hiding a first wife, who is mad, in the attic. Jane flees.
In the current romance between political parties and media channels, poor Prasar Bharati finds itself cast in the tragic role of the first wife in the attic. Take a look at the television scene in Tamil Nadu, for example. Sun TV, Kalaignar TV, Vasanth TV, Makkal TV, Puthiya Thalaimurai TV, Jaya TV, Captain TV and Win TV form the roll call of channels with overt and covert links with the major political parties. In fact, political links are not confined to generation of content. Major parties have slowly extended their control to cable television operations and can thus influence the distribution of content.
In these circumstances, while the judicial system’s and the Election Commission’s efforts to check paid news are welcome, it is difficult to overlook their averted gaze from the issue of channels with clear political affiliations. So long as TV channels are effectively controlled by political parties, it is futile to pretend paid news is a tactical issue which can be easily controlled by law. This is another example of our general tendency to strain at gnats and swallow camels.
The larger issues are how best we regulate the media and who should do the job. Most readers who have bemoaned the death of the telegraph would be surprised to know that in the eyes of the law, the television signal continues to be regarded as a telegraph. Yes, what all of us watch every evening are de jure visual telegrams.
It is the far-fetched definition of a television signal as a form of a telegram which has permitted Trai to act as the broadcasting regulator. Unfortunately, Trai is a technical body which doesn’t understand the social and political implications of the media. It has therefore adopted a rather laissez faire attitude towards broadcasting and self-regulation by broadcasters is open to abuse as hardly any member of the public seems to object to the content being broadcast.
In this dog-eat-dog world of broadcasting journalism, it would require a