Sensationalism is a type of editorial bias in mass media in which events and topics in news stories and pieces are over-hyped to increase viewership or readership numbers
“Could the biggest science project lead to the end of the world?” – Fox News
“A gas line ruptures, could it happen in your neighborhood?” – CNN
“It’s not only lack of sleep that can kill you, it is sleeping too much that can do the same.” -MSNBC
A common rule of thumb would be to associate media bias with overarching government control. North Korean media for one, is simply the mouth piece of its government; most, if not all, of Russian media networks play into their government’s greasy hands as well. But on the other side of the spectrum, whilst regulated journalism is anything but the accurate portrayal of facts, deregulated journalism too hones a weapon of ill that can be potentially just as ruinous – sensationalism.
For the sake of coherence, sensationalism means exaggeration; matters deemed bagatelle are given unforgiving spotlight. It is no news network’s concern ‘what’ the interpretation of the story is, whether it appeals to one’s favorable senses or not; all that really matters is the level of tagged controversy that stirs viewership – media’s standard unit of currency.
People don’t flip the channel to “Times Now” to be au courant with current affairs; it is simply a source of laughable recreation. We watch what they conveniently call a ’round table’ conducive to fair debate, when it is quite evidently a bunch of boisterous politicians bantering beyond ambit. And let us not forget respected Arnab Goswami, who is given the sole mandate to conduct debate, but ends up being over-the-moon-partisan and drives the discussion to no man’s land (and might I add, in the most cack-handed manner). All this show and tell has, unsurprisingly, made Times Now become India’s most watched news channel.
As Jon Stewart aptly put it, “It’s not news anymore, it’s theater.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the Oscars added a new category based on news anchor performances.
So should we be rid off sensationalism? Or rather, ‘can’ we be rid off sensationalism, when the ball is in the private sector’s court? I don’t think so. In fact, sensationalism practiced in moderation, can be an invaluable asset. Not all relevant news (news that should be news) is eye candy. So to spark public interest, a little bit of flavoring can assist in spreading awareness. For example, news of the development of a new vaccine can be shown in an interesting shade of light to garner more listening ears. But there MUST be a clear line that should not be crossed; Arnab for one should limit his bickering. Dramatizing to cause unnecessary worry or to entice unwarranted sentiments should be stopped.
The responsibility of the media is not only to deliver relevant news but also to deliver it in a relevant manner. The achievement of both these obligations will leave us with both economic (media) and social (viewers) beneficiaries, thus creating the right balance.