Sunday, November 11, 2007

Portrayal of violence on news channels

M.s. Verma

News channels portray violence indiscriminately and repetitively. They should use restraint as it has a bad effect on the audience and more on children. The author puts across his views on the issue.

IN THE NAME OF realistic reporting, news channels show violence as an important component of the news. The graphic details of lurid visuals and then umpteen times repetition hammering the news item into the head of the viewers sometimes becomes repugnant and nauseating. Each channel tries to outdo the other in this regard. The viewers are reminded in numerous ways that their channel alone ensures in depth reporting and in the process subtly and obliquely try to undermine the credibility of the others. Agreed that to reasonable limits visuals do make news interesting but too much of everything is bad and showing violence in excess is no exception to the rule.

Violence scenes splashed over TV screen fall into the following categories:

1. Violence by the police
2. Violence in personal relationships
3. Violence by fundamentalists
4. Violence by communal forces and
5. Violence on gullible superstitious people in the name of exorcism and other occult practices to rid them of incurable diseases

In reporting violence by the police, the channels certainly render an important service. The officials of the lower level do need to be reined in. They have no business to behave like irresponsible. But we should not forget that sometime the people too forget their boundaries often causing harm to the psyche of the law abiding and peace loving people and the police have a duty to do. They are prone to be criticised one way or the other, either for inactivity or for excess. But violence whether by the police or the people is an evil, a dish that can’t be served indiscriminately.

In the second category we are shown a married professor being beaten with shoes and chappals by the members of his family. So is his paramour, his student in fact, though she is proclaiming her love for him shamelessly and naturally arouses the ire of the people who more often than not take the law into their own hands. She is beaten, pushed, pulled and humiliated. A lady teacher is beaten, thrashed and humiliated to no end for an alleged illegal act which the people later come to know was an unsubstantiated allegation.

In the third category fall the cases of gruesome scenes of an Australian missionary and his sons having been burnt by fundamentalists or of beating of a professor and a student of art by those whose judgment in such matters can be faulted. The zealots, who indulge in such acts of violence, have a morbid mentality and are mostly irrational and insensitive to public sensibility and social decency.
Some channels forget that they are abetting crime and violence when they videotape an aggrieved citizen pouring kerosene on himself and putting a match to it. He dies as a consequence. Why was this man or others like him are allowed to do this, one may ask?

In the fourth category is the violence perpetrated by quacks and exorcists who profess to cure incurable diseases or exorcise patients. A quack stands on the chest of a howling kid. Another uses a sword to cure ailing persons. Then whipping and beating of the sick is shown again and again. Another quack is shown dangling patients into a well pretending to cure them. It must be admitted that this reporting made the police act promptly. But even in such cases discrimination as to how long such portrayal is to continue is necessary. All these portrayals make the viewers shudder. But it will be quite enough if the visuals are shown with adequate restraint.

Portrayal of violence on TV lends it glamour and now and then sends wrong signals to unscrupulous people who become bold enough to perpetrate violence by creating situations with their machinations. On the other hand it seldom benefits the law abiding peace loving people who can do very little except showing their distaste and shrugging their shoulders. Though this sort of news acts as a reminder to the indifferent and inactive authorities who should prevent such occurrences when there is still time, yet this happens very rarely. Then there may be other ways to point out to the authorities this predicament. The children and the youth of the country have impressionable minds and portrayal of violence affects them adversely.

There is need for the news channels to introspect and check the over enthusiastic portrayal of violence, where a spoken utterance should and would suffice. There is also imbalance in such reporting which needs to be corrected. We have quite a large number of excellent journalists in our media who should come forward to lend a helping hand so that reporting can be streamlined and becomes a genuine public utility that delivers the goods expected of them.

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