Negating Negative news
“The question of negative news arises out of negation of moral principles”
Negative news have two dimensions, one in which is portrays a matter in a negative manner (context specific) and other which gives a negative view of a matter (content specific). For example, the death of a person can be given a negative outlook by incorporating ‘suspicious circumstances of the cause of death’ equal to that of a murder. This is the context specific negativity. Content specific negativity arises in case where news is shown to believe on the bad reputation of a country or a person. This type of negative news is used usually to cause discomfort or throw bad light on a person or a country, something which the western media usually does while portraying Afghanistan or like countries.
Interestingly the scope of negative news is immense, as there exists a class of people who take interest of such news and another set who uses it as an opportunity. The concept of yellow journalism is the child of the second class of people supported by the first class of people. Ex Chief Minister IK Gujaral, Former head of ISRO Mr Nambi Narayan etc are known victims of this.
Effect of negative news reporting:
News portrayed in the negative light has a lot to do with the psychic of the creator and the end-user or journalist/editor and reader/people. Journalism exists on creating or inventing news rather than innovating news. Competition among different media and between peers has ordained the existence of such news. However, a large section of the journalists believe that a huge market exists for such negative news. Creating interesting news has direct relation to the customer satisfaction. Politicians are the major class of people who support negativity.
Jan Kleinnijenhuis (2002) in his seminal article Negative News and the Sleeper Effect of Distrust gives interesting reading on how negative news are been used to instigate and dissuade opponents, critical during the election periods. According to him, negative news creates distrusts between political peers which acts as sleeper effect on the people or persuades them to distrust the politicians. In fact various research done by Neuroscientists represent that the outcomes of elections depend largely on rapid, unreflective trait inferences of competence and reliability that occur within a one-second exposure to the faces of the candidates (Todorov et al. 2005).
When the face of the candidates is flashed through different media associated with corruption or criminal offences, the voters tend to distrust such people. Interestingly, all major political parties take the same route in this game of “winning by tarnishing”. Herein lie’s other factors as to which negative factors outweigh the other. If we measure the negativity of news and come with an index, we can see that political issues dominate the rankings. News related to sports or weather can be found to have the lowest score because of the neutrality involved into it. While sport teams and weather incidents can also be prone to negativity.
The causal effect of readership or viewership is directly linked to negative news. Richard Posner, a Correspondent of New York Times had termed the act of creating sensationalism as bad news. It was found that the arise of negative news owes to the decline of mainstream news and the arrival of visual media leading to a deterioration in quality.
In a recent poll conducted by the Hindu, it was found that Indians still believed that newspaper have wider quality and credibility spending around 37 minutes for reading it (2006:Indian Readership Survey). While visual media and mobile news reporting is considered to be least credible. The 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer which studied on credibility of advertisements in different media found that advertising and social networks as news media are not considered as being credible sources of information in India by opinion leaders. Though no formal studies have been conducted on negative news, opinion leaders believe that with the advent of new media, quality and credibility has deteriorated with an increase in negative news.
Effect on readers:
The Center for Media and Public Affairs did a study on network coverage of murder. Between 1990 and 1995, the murder rate in the U.S. went down thirteen percent. But during that same period, network coverage of murders increased three hundred percent. If you happened to watch a lot of news during that period, you would probably have gotten the impression that murders in America were escalating out of control, when in fact the situation was improving. Cynicism and pessimism is considered to be one of the potent factors that drive negative news. Health experts believe that frequent exposure to negative news creates higher chance of heart failures and slow reaction against medicines.
It is believed that inducing fear, frequent reproaching and disparagement by various media is causing a strong sense of pique among the readers. With the resultant splurge in ‘cry-till-night’ operas and cynical comedy shows proves the fact that negativity is increasing in a routine manner causing grave issues family issues caused through distrust. Factually incorrect News headlines with minimum veracity involved like “Boss runs with wedded employee”, “Raped husband kills wife” etc has been increasing clogging as Page 3 columns and newspapers.
While there is no medicine to cure such illness, but there are better options for preventing it from being acute. The core of the issue of negative news lies in the demand and the supply chain. Self-regulation is a weak word to be issued to restrict the use of negative news, but can be a more effective weapon. The Norms of Journalistic conduct framed by the Press Council of India, 2006 provides a good framework for regulating the use of negative use with the sole purpose of increasing readership by doing more harm to the victimized. The Preamble to the guidelines is clear to avoid any discrepancies of negativity which states “The fundamental objective of journalism is to serve the people with news, views, comments and information on matters of public interest in a fair, accurate, unbiased, sober and decent manner.” Only if the print and visual media unequivocally stand to protect themselves to be the tools for negative news, shall it be effective.
Reviewing and editing of negative news is left to the public especially when it is a free and open field. Educating the readers shall be a mandate of all media, so that the readers themselves can shrug off negative impacts of news. The public shall be given opportunities to rate and rank articles, news and views moderated by a Readers Editor (eg: The Hindu). This will act as a check and balance in negating any attempts to promote sensationalism. The readers and the viewers have the right to be provided accurate and quality news, while the media should act as the agents of change through an impartial and unbiased and open platform. Maintaining quality standards should be the norm and the compliance with it the rule for all media alike. The fact is that only 55-60 percent of the people in India are literate and only 242 million people read newspapers in India (IRS), with a large growth opportunity for the media. There around 80 television news channels catering to the news requirements of the Indian audience spanning from agricultural price to budget for agriculture to latest films of bollywood stars to the number of runs scored by Sachin Tendulkar. It is a necessity that all media as a responsible media provide authentic and accurate news to the Indians to progress and develop.