March 30, 2006

Mainstream Media in India

Over the past 10 years, I have noticed that journalism standards in India have gone down the drain. Few would argue that mainstream Media in India is more and more becoming tabloid-ish... especially online versions of Timesofindia but even the others stoop to covering 'Celebrity marriages, lost dogs, drunken brawls'

And even Aamir Khan thinks so :) In an unprecedented and outspoken interview, iconic actor Aamir Khan speaks out about the media to Shoma Chaudhury of (subscription may be required to read entire article). If you arean Aamir fan, you'll also enjoy this article.

P.S. On a related note, do read the great watchdog blog which discusses issues related to Indian media at WeTheMedia

I am reproducing the entire interview here for your perusal...

(Remember all copyrights lie with

'Mainstream media has become like film media 15 years ago'

Celebrity marriages, lost dogs, drunken brawls. Trivial headline news and the sellout of mainstream journalism. In an unprecedented and outspoken interview, iconic actor Aamir Khan speaks out about the media to Shoma Chaudhury

'I was taken aback by the vengeance with which a section of the media went after Mangal Pandey. It’s as if they had almost pre-decided to kill the film. I felt like setting the record straight, but for me to say the film was doing well is absurd. So I just fell silent'
Aamir, you did saturation press for Mangal Pandey. But for Rang De Basanti you've kept totally away from the media. Why is that?

Well, there are a number of reasons, and I’ll go into it at various levels. First reason, I was extremely surprised by the vengeance with which a fair section of the media went for Mangal Pandey. It seemed to me as if they had pre-decided to kill the film. A lot of articles came out on the day of the release regarding how badly the film was doing at the box-office. On the day of release it is impossible to tell. The fact of the matter is that the collections in the first week were record-breaking by leaps and bounds, not just by small margins. So if at all the stories in that first week had been “honest news”, they should have said the collections are breaking records. Instead, there were articles about how badly it’s doing. I must emphasise I’m not talking about reviews here because that’s personal opinion — people and critics’ personal opinion — which is fair enough. I’m talking about the reporting on how the film was doing. That really took me aback. I didn’t know how to react. I felt like correcting what the reports were saying and putting on record what the actual collections were. But somehow it didn’t feel right to do that because I’m an interested party and for me to say the film is doing very well is absurd. I felt the collections should speak for themselves; instead they were being altered. So I was taken aback by the vengeance. I was also disappointed in a majority of the media, be it television or print; reason being that while a section was attacking the film, the other section should have stood up and said, let’s talk hardcore numbers and be factual instead of imagining things and making up. That didn’t happen. So I just fell silent for a bit. I just didn’t know how to react. Why was all this happening? I was confused, quite frankly. So at the time I maintained silence.

Is your media embargo a product of this?

No, as I said, there are various reasons. Along with this, in the last one year or so, I’ve been amazed at the kind of reporting that’s happening in national news — whether it’s television or print. It’s extremely disturbing, I find. Strange and unimportant stories are constantly making headlines. Only things which are sensational or cater to very base emotions of people are headline news. I realise TV channels are sprouting every day and there’s a lot of competition to grab viewership. Similarly with newspapers. As a result they are stooping to the lowest levels to try and get readership or viewership which actually translates into money. So at the end of the day because they want more ads they are destroying what is a very important part of society and that is news reporting. The nation and society at large have a right to know what is happening in the country and in the right manner and right perspective. The kind of news making headlines today — earlier they used to be tidbits or one page which was meant to be entertaining, or half a page — not even one page. But now that’s the main news and stories of farmers dying or something equally important that affects our lives or affects the lives of a lot of people are being pushed to small, unimportant sections of the paper. I find this very damaging and alarming.

Some ig somewhere has become Radha and that is national news, some actress has lost her dog, somebody’s affair has broken up, somebody’s in hospital — all personal stuff — and that’s national news. Certainly people would be interested in the film industry or entertainment world but that should not get the kind of prominence it is getting, I feel. It’s wasting important national space that should be used in a more productive manner.

'My marriage was like a money-making opportunity for the media. I do feel as a public person I should voice my opinion for whatever it’s worth. News reporting is a matter of national concern. I can see why all this is happening in the media but I don’t condone it'
Why did you decide ..

Sorry, to complete what I was saying, this was immediately followed by a very personal event in my life which was my marriage and in which I again felt the press had gone completely nuts (laughing) — in the way they were trying to exploit that occasion for their financial benefit. Trying to get pictures, going to lengths where they were making up what we were supposed to be wearing or what my children were supposed to have reacted to or said… All kinds of things. Absolute imagination.

The thing is, I feel before being a star I am a human being and I have the right to conduct my life the way I want to, especially my personal life. If I’m getting married and I want to share it with a few close people, I feel I should be left alone to do that. Yes, report that I’m getting married, but that just makes one news item. I don’t think it deserves the kind of space it got in national news. I felt very violated by the attitude of the media at that time. Supposedly dignified newspapers and dignified news channels were indulging in the same things. Bit shocking for me. And at the end of the day I realise they were doing this to make money. They wanted viewership and they were selling time on their channels to get ads. So it’s very sad what news reporting has become in India today. That was another reason for me becoming silent and quiet. I had no idea how I was supposed to deal with this. I really don’t know how I’m supposed to deal with this. (laughing with exasperation) Do I take legal recourse? Do I file a pil? It was all so extremely intrusive. Even when we were away on a three-day stint to Panchgani with my family, they were all over there. When they couldn’t get close to me because fortunately I’m in a position where I could use security guards — other people may not have even that and it’s unfair that anyone can walk into your house and shoot what’s happening in your house — if someone tries to do that, I want to stop them; so I did my best to stop it and to a large degree I succeeded which obviously annoyed them even more. They started writing rubbish — stuff like my agency had used violence.

There were reports of that?

Yes, when they weren’t allowed in, reporters tried to push their way. Obviously they were stopped, so they started shouting, how dare you use violence? (laughing with exasperation) There was no violence. They were just being stopped from entering a space that was private. All kinds of stunts were tried. It left me amazed and upset and surprised at the way things are. Soon after that Rang De Basanti was releasing. I realised I wasn’t mentally or emotionally in a state to deal with these kind of people, this monster that the media had become. Who am I supposed to speak to and what am I supposed to say? It’s much better that I just keep silent. If the film has to suffer as a result of that, it will, but I feel the film has a strength of its own and we can use paid alternatives for publicising -- take out ads that are paid for. And that’s what the producers did. They were of course alarmed that I was not going to give any interviews, but I was not in a state, quite frankly, to give any.

We’ll come back to some of this later, but why did you decide to speak out now?

I thought more about it and I do feel as a public person I should voice my opinion for whatever it is worth. News reporting is a matter of national concern. I can see why all this is happening but I still don’t condone that kind of behaviour. I really feel that the Press Council or some authorities in a position to do something about this must look at it very seriously. In fact I’d even go so far as to say I think there is a need for some kind of law or legislation regarding various aspects of the press.

Newspapers like The Times of India were printing false news about me during the marriage. This is supposed to be one of the most prestigious newspapers in the country. None of the others are far behind. All the leading newspapers today are only interested in printing photographs of naked women in at least five pages of the publication -- that’s what it’s come down to as far as I can see -- on a daily basis (laughing) -- not a one-off, on a daily basis.

But to get back, I am of course against censorship or the press being curtailed in any way but at the same time I feel every individual in India has a right to privacy and that certainly should be protected. Unless I’m doing something illegal, in which case, please, make sure you intrude my space, but otherwise you can’t just walk into my house for titillation and to sell your magazines and channels.

Apr 01 , 2006

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