As television news channels turn our living rooms into gloomy rooms with reports of Covid deaths, Sushant Singh Rajput’s investigation and Hathras murder, three “Good News” items gave us a break from this constant “negativity.”
First, social media after a while was put to good use. A food blogger, Gaurav Wasan, made a short video of a roadside food stall called Baba Ka Dhaba. In the video the owner, an elderly man cries talking about how he has fallen on hard times, as he has no customers because of Covid. The video went viral. The next day when the old man came to his food stall there was a line of customers to eat his food! He is doing well now.
Second, the birth of 007, not James Bond, but like the title of the new Bond film “No Time to Die,” this premature child who initially wasn’t expected to make it, was delivered on an Indigo flight! And this baby boy is 007 because the form to register a birth on a flight is called FFS – 007, ah!
Lucky for the baby and mother, there was a gynaecologist on the flight, the Indigo crew had injections that could prevent bleeding for the mother and the baby boy was born with just enough time to reach his final destination without having to divert the flight. It all came together.
Third is the news of how a boy from Uttar Pradesh, who went missing five years ago, was traced to a child welfare home in Assam and reunited with his family. What makes this news hopeful is, knowing that our Government is investing money on good technology and even better, our institutions are actually using them.
This young boy was traced because of a face recognition system called DARPAN, which the Telangana Police have deployed. This face recognition software, launched in 2017, maintains a database of children and persons lodged at various rescue homes across the country. It then matches these photos with missing children in the FIRs and now, thanks to this, a young boy has found his parents.
While these three stories this week were indeed a much-needed break from the negative news that our television news channels have been peddling, should they stop reporting bad news or negative news as many opine?
This opinion reminds us of US President Nixon’s Vice-President Spiro Agnew, who referred to the news media as “nattering nabobs of negativism” who “have formed their own 4-H Club — the Hopeless, Hysterical Hypochondriacs of History.’’ Well, many viewers of Indian TV news channels may agree with this assessment, but let’s not forget it was the same ‘Hopeless, Hysterical Hypochondriacs of History’ who exposed his President Nixon’s Watergate scandal.
In 2012, the Russian Government wanted to pass a Bill that made it mandatory for the media to limit negative news to 30 per cent; any violation of this meant prison sentences of up to two years! Of course, this Bill did not pass. But the question of bad news Vs good news ratio in news media is on the rise across the globe.
Many newspapers and media companies today are trying to put up positive stories, even at the cost of being called an escapist media. I remember once while working for a national daily, when the editorial team decided to put a report about a young girl’s death in the inside pages without the photograph, the next day the Circulation Department, which is in charge of the newspaper’s sales, took objection to this editorial choice because other newspapers had put the same news in the front page with photo and so had sold more copies.
The Circulation Executive even gave us a lesson in journalism as he said: “The movies are supposed to be escapist, not newspapers? Your job is report, good or bad” and cheekily added, “for your information, bad news sells and you get paid if we sell.”
He was right; the most consumed news stories are crime, sex, politics and then sports. That is why Princess Diana was more sought-after and read about for her affairs than her charity work. That is why people know more about Sushant Singh’s death than the Farm Bills that affect millions.
But there is a problem with too much positive news, it dulls the urge to question or fight. Over time constant positive news mellows one’s ability to identify and aggressively critique systemic problems.
We are so overjoyed by the act of giving a hungry man fish that we don’t care to teach him how to fish. We don’t demand our Government to put in place a scheme to teach him how to fish so he does not remain a charity case.
Example is the Baba Ka Dhaba case. Yes, it was indeed wonderful to see people line up to bring a “smile” on the old man’s face, but may be there should be a campaign to come up with some kind of social security for street food vendors. Because there are many elderly street vendors in this country who need help, who need social security, they all cannot live on momentary social media inspired charity.
What happens to Baba Ka Dhaba after the crowds thin out and the selfie seekers have moved on to the next emotional viral outbreak? We just can’t be happy with a momentary act of kindness because it only fixes a symptom, not the problem.
Agreed, positive news is needed for our own sanity. However, the importance of negative news cannot be denied. Especially for an uninvolved citizenry who needs to be enraged, outraged and kicked into action.
Of course, it is good to have “good news” but let’s also remember realistic pessimism beats deluded optimism.
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