If you’ve thought ‘what am I even watching?’ while viewing any of India's ‘Leading’ news channels , you're not alone. They truly have become a circus as their focus seems to be on lead actresses asking for ‘maal’ and not the real issues happening in the country. !
Various news platforms have been using their journalistic freedom to spread hate propaganda as well as create a toxic environment by vilifying certain individuals. A trend that is being noticed is how entertainment is becoming synonymous with news. In a race to increase their TRP, news channels are going to extreme lengths (and new lows) to try and get more views. In fact, even the tragic death of Sushant Singh Rajput has been sensationalised by channels in an effort to try and gain an audience. The rising toxicity in these channels have been noticed by many top brands such as Parle, Maruti Suzuki, Amul and Future Group , who have now issued statements on this trend and hinted at pulling the plug on ad expenditures if these channels continue the same way.
Sudarshan News has recently come under the radar for its hateful ‘UPSC Jihad’ show which caused immense social media outrage because of its content which aimed at inciting communal hatred against Muslims. Amul, one of Sudarshan News’s leading sponsors was called out for supporting such a channel. In response the company’s Managing Director, RS Sodhi, said that brands should be responsible in being able to dictate how news channels behave. He also said that since most brands spent 35-40% of their television advertising budget on news channels, they can be persuaded to stop churning out toxic content. His statement also encouraged other top brand executives to take action.
Republic TV has become notorious for going over the top with its ‘Prime Time Debate’ and using profanity a little too often. “The language that these channels have been using, I don’t want my kids to be consuming that content and if I think this for my kids, it applies to my brands too. It’s important for us to come together and being responsible is extremely important right now.” was the statement made by Pawan Sarda, group head of digital marketing and e-commerce at Future Group. Brand safety plays a crucial role in advertising and advertisers are starting to protect their brands by urging news channels to take accountability of the kind of news they report. Following in the footsteps of RS Sodhi, he too urges that advertisers should be more firm handed with the channels they advertise on and steer them towards more responsible and news worthy content.
Krishnarao Buddha of Parle Products went a step further and suggested “ all the leading advertisers to come together and ban the news genre until they are forced to bring sanity and ethics in news back. I’m saying the entire news genre because somewhere they will have to bring in honesty in reporting and not create stories only keeping TRPs in mind, which ultimately is poisoning the same mind”. While this seems like a necessary strategy to force the news channels to course correct, there is another side that should be paid attention to.
Shashank Srivastava, executive director of sales and marketing at Maruti Suzuki India, brings attention to the flip side by saying that while advertisers should invest their brands in media which put out quality content, brand should stay away from dictating what the content should be. “Whether the advertising money can or should direct content is a debatable issue. And even if it was desirable or possible there is that equally vexatious issue of who and what decides what content or behaviour is aggressive or malicious or vilifying. As a society, we have to define what is acceptable and what is not. And work in accordance to that,” he said.
This makes me wonder, why don't brands just stop advertising on news channels if they are not happy with the kind of content they air? TV news channels have a large number of loyal viewers and any kind of bad advertising on such a platform will cause a negative chain reaction for brands. “Somewhere advertisers have a fear and they find excuses to advertise on news channels because they have the power to arm-twist any brand. For example, if any brand gets into any controversy, they will go to the extent to kill the brand. It has happened with us in the past and we got negative headlines because we did not advertise on certain media,” Rao of Parle Products said. This is why Pawan’s strategy of ‘talking sense’ into these channels is a mutually beneficial alternative than advertisers just terminating contracts with them.
This step by advertisers to try and back news channels into a corner and force them to mend their ways of putting out toxic content is a much needed intervention. Advertisements are a huge source of income for such channels and hence being warned about pulling the plug might force them to mend their ways. The issue here runs deeper than just the public having a problem with ‘bad content’ that they're seeing on news channels. Such platforms serve a greater purpose of educating their audience and influencing their mindset and when they put out toxic content of hatred, false information or even sensationalised pieces of news , they are just distracting their viewers from real issues. Issues of our current GDP decline, rising Covid-19 cases and caste and gender based violence should be the real issues which these channels report on. This also further begs the question, is media being used as a distraction to take away the focus from the real pressing issues that are going on currently ? that is a contentious answer than only our government would be able to give.