We don’t read much about the Ambani feud these days. And does anyone even remember the high-stakes, high-tension, high-visibility Lodha-Birla spat? In both these cases, news channels went over the board bringing every second of drama straight into our homes. Business magazines devoted their covers, and a good chunk of their pages, to discussing what might have happened, and what could transpire. Experts on these topics apparated from thin air, reporters learnt all sorts of tidbits from dozens of “sources close to the family”. In short, for a few weeks after news first broke about these fights, they formed a significant part of our daily lives. Only to completely fizzle out of public view days later.
So why do things wind down so dramatically? Why does the print and television media lose interest in these sordid affairs so quickly? Is our collective attention span as a nation so fickle? When a month ago, hours were spent discussing what Anil Ambani’s strategy against his brother might be in the future (whether or not there were enough facts to reach any sort of informed opinion), we now run the risk of missing out even if Anil does come out with such a strategy.
I remember both the Indian Express and the Times of India devoting a full page for detailed analysis of the different terms involved in the prospective messy legal battle between the man to whom Priyamvada Birla bequeathed her wealth to – R. S. Lodha, and the indignant scions of the Birla family. What the Hindu Succession Act was, what defines a Hindu Undivided Family, the matter of how a person writing a will is judged to be sane or insane, and the entire hierarchy and individual holdings of the Birlas. Wow! But if a newspaper is willing to spend so much time, money and manpower into a news item, surely it must also have the perseverance to pursue the matter. If the matter goes to court, the public needs to know what’s going on. If there’s a hint of an out-of-court settlement, good investigative journalism must bring it to the notice of readers. That is what separates responsible journalism from mere sensationalism.
And that is what crazy competition in the media seems to be doing to quality content. In the mad scramble for TRPs, to grab the last split second of a viewer’s attention, print and television media now try so hard to make news interesting, that the objective of enabling readers/viewers to build an opinion and reach a conclusion, is lost. By flitting from one “hot” issue to another, our national media fails on two important counts: keeping a check on the people in the spotlight, and giving viewers a complete perspective on the origins, happenings and most importantly, eventual conclusion of an event.