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Yellow Journalism

It is evident that journalism no more acts as the watchdog of the society, it has conveniently shifted its spotlight from the betterment of society to fulfilling their own desire of climbing higher on the ladder of TRP ratings. This precisely defines yellow journalism writes Rituj Chopra and Suchi Swami.

Journalism is a discipline of gathering, writing and reporting news, and more broadly it includes the process of editing and presenting the news articles. Journalism applies to various media, including but not limited to newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. According to the Chambers dictionary, journalism is defined as "a profession of collecting, writing, publishing etc. news reports and other articles for newspapers and journals, television and other related media'. Unfortunately in the present day scenario, journalism has ceased to be as simplistic as the dictionary states it to be. Rather than simply stating the truth and making people aware of "meaningful" changes around us, it focuses on presenting an aggrandized and perverted version of the most inane and inconsequential events. Journalism which stoops down to the level of scandal-mongering, sensationalism, jingoism or other unethical or unprofessional practices by news media organizations or journalists is what yellow journalism is. Yellow journalism has become rampant in the recent years and has taken the form of an epidemic spreading widely in media circles. Impartial and analytical reporting is being overshadowed by a flamboyant and irresponsible approach to news presentation.

Sadly though, this period of sensationalist news delivery, where the so-called 'yellow press' routinely outsold the more honest, truthful, unbiased newspapers, does stand out as a particularly dark era in journalistic history. In the late 19th century- The New York World, run by Joseph Pulitzer and The New York Journal, run by William Randolph Hearst became synonymous to yellow journalism. It was with the onset of the rapid industrialization that yellow journalism took birth. Because of a sudden impetus in the newspaper machines and advancements in technology thousands of papers could be printed in a single night. This is believed to have brought into play one of the most important characteristics of yellow journalism - the endless drive for circulation. And unfortunately, the publisher's greed was very often put before ethics. Be it highlighting Mallika Sherawat's half clad dance on New Years Eve, presenting superstitious notions of communities thriving for three minutes of fame or screening the catfight of a professor's wife and his love interest, the media has left no stone unturned in order to add more zeros to its bank account.

It is well known that journalists especially newspaper reporters, come pretty low in the public's estimation. A survey conducted by the market research company Mori in February 2003 rated them even lower than government ministers, finding that "75% of adults would not trust a journalist to tell them the truth". Little wonder that the press is thus excoriated if people hold it responsible for one of the most harrowing events in recent public life, the death of Diana, princess of Wales, following a traffic accident in 1997. Describing it as a 'defining moment in British Journalism', the journalist Ian Hargreaves, in his recent book Journalism: Truth or Dare?, notes that her car had been chased through a Paris underpass by freelance photographers working for British and other newspapers, leading the princess's brother at her funeral, to accuse publishers of having 'blood on their hands'. This is the level at which the press can stoop in order to sell a few extra copies of its edition!

Many instances have also proven that the media has crossed its boundaries to the extent of victimizing and being judgmental of the youth today. Evidently, in the rat race of competing with their contemporaries, the delusional younger generation falls prey to the tactics of the media who uses them as tools to reach the finish line. The media puts no effort to show the right direction to the troubled youth; rather they are made spectacles of, making it impossible for them to lead a normal life. The recent MMS scandal of a 17 year old, from a renowned school of Delhi, which was blown out of proportion by our "responsible" news-hunters, forced not only the principal to throw her out of the school but also made it unfeasible for her to stay in India. Not even a single detail of the event was hidden, including names and details of those involved, which left permanent scars on her character making it impossible for her to face society. This instance along with innumerable others, stand for an explicit invasion of the law of privacy which is recognition of the individual's right to be left alone and have his personal space inviolate.

In early times, the law afforded protection only against physical interference with a person or his property. As civilization progressed, the personal, intellectual and spiritual facets of the individual personality gained recognition and the scope of law expanded to give protection to these needs including an individual's privacy. The term 'privacy' has been defined as "the rightful claim of the individual to determine the extent to which he wishes to share of himself with the others". the concept of privacy is used to describe not only the individuals right to keep things to himself but also defines the limit of the Government authorities or any kind of institution or organizations to intrude in our lives and keep a watch on us through surveillance or telephone tapping. For instance, by determining whether a pregnant woman has a right to abortion, or whether an HIV infected person has a right to marry or have children, by government authorities can exercise control over personal choices. To top it all if the media decides this to expose this to the world, then the privacy of a common man comes under threat.

Evolution of the law of privacy has occurred due to development of media in the modern times. It is because of the media and the unbridled growth of yellow journalism that the private life of an individual has come in the public domain, thus exposing him to the risk of an invasion of his space. Moreover in the Internet age, information has become very accessible and is available with one click of the mouse. This is the reason why law should be a 'watchdog' to journalism and keep an eye on its procedures.

But unfortunately, even today in no country does the right to privacy enjoy the status of a specific constitutional right. Privacy law has evolved largely through judicial pronouncements. Even as late as 1991, the law in England was found to be inadequate to take actions against yellow journalism. In that year, the court of appeal decided Kaye v Robertson. The case concerned a well-known actor who had to be hospitalized after sustaining severe head injuries in a car accident. At a time when the actor was in no condition to be interviewed, a reporter and a photographer from the 'Sunday Sport Newspaper' gained unauthorized access and took his photos. Because of no proper law, no action was taken against the reporter. Despite the lack of specific constitutional recognition, the right to privacy has long held a place in international documents on human rights such as Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.

In India, the right to privacy is not a specific fundamental right but has gained constitutional recognition. Unfortunately the right to privacy is not one of the reasonable restrictions. In India right to privacy has derived itself from- common law of torts and the Constitutional law. In common law, a private action for damages for unlawful invasion of privacy is maintainable. Under the constitutional law, the right to privacy is implicit in the fundamental rights to life and liberty guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.

Various case laws in the past are evidences, which prove the infringement of privacy by journalists. In Kaleidoscope (India) (P) Ltd. v. Phoolan Devi, the trial Judge restrained the exhibition of the controversial film Bandit Queen both in India and abroad. The trial court reached a prima facie view that the film infringed the right to privacy of Phoolan Devi, notwithstanding that she had assigned her copyright in her writings to the film producers. This was upheld by the Division Bench. The Court observed that even assuming that Phoolan Devi was a public figure whose private life was exposed to the media; the question was to what extent private matters relating to rape or the alleged murders committed by her could be commercially exploited, and not just as news items or matters of public interest. Thus, justice was rendered by preventing by intrusion of privacy into the life of the one and only Bandit Queen.

Yellow journalism has not only affected and victimized the general public and has not even spared the apex court of the nation, the Supreme Court. In the high profile case of the Booker-prize winner Arundhati Roy, blatant and unconstructive criticism of a Supreme Court decision was witnessed.

The petitioner, of the case, was a movement or andolan, whose leaders and members were concerned about the alleged adverse environmental impact of the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Reservoir Dam in Gujarat and the far-reaching and tragic consequences of the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people from their ancestral homes that would result from the submerging of vast extents of land, to make up the reservoir. During the pendency of the writ petition the Court passed various orders. By one of the orders, the Court permitted to increase the height of the dam, which was resented to and protested by the petitioners and others including the respondent herein. The respondent Arundhati Roy, who was not a party to the proceedings, published an article entitled "The Greater Common Good" which was published in Outlook Magazine. Two judges of this Court, forming the three-judge Bench felt that the comments made by her were, prima facie, a misrepresentation of the proceedings of the court. It was observed that judicial process and institution cannot be permitted to be scandalized or subjected to contumacious violation in such a blatant manner, it had been done by her. On the basis of the record, and the conduct of the respondent, the court had no doubt in its mind that the respondent had committed the criminal contempt of the Court by scandalizing its authority with malaise intentions. The respondent was, therefore, held guilty for the contempt of court punishable under Section 12 of the Contempt of Courts Act.

Regardless of the above mentioned success stories various loopholes are still present in our judiciary as far as Yellow Journalism is concerned. So far the laws of privacy have been relegated to a penumbral status and have never enjoyed the status of a well-defined right. It is time our lawmakers enacted laws to protect privacy rather than laws that license intrusion into private affairs.

In the feud between the Journalists and the Law, a flimsy argument put across by the Journalists when reprimanded for their wrong doings is that there are too many restrictions put on them making a hostile environment for them to work forcing them to cross their boundaries. They conveniently blame the legal set up and the people for curtailing their right to spread awareness. However it is a fact that various provisions under law have given enough scope to journalism to do its job with full validation and earnestness. Despite that, out of sheer desperation for more exaltation, journalists have misused this freedom for their own vested interests. In Rajgopal v. State of Tamil Nadu, popularly known as the "Auto Shanker" case, the Supreme Court had expressly held "the right to privacy" or the Right to be let alone is guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. A citizen has a right to safeguard the privacy of his own, his family, marriage, procreation, motherhood, child bearing and education among other matters. None can publish anything concerning the above matters without his consent. If he does so, he would be violating the right of the person concerned and would be liable in action for damages. Nonetheless, the court held that the State or its officials could not impose prior restraint on publication of defamatory matter. The public officials could take action only after the publication, if it is found to be false.

Another argument, and rightly so, put forward is that the audience of today (inclusive of all age groups) demands what is being catered by the media to them. Unfortunately, to put the whole blame on the journalists for the deterioration of the standards of reporting would be unreasonable. The reason for the ever-rising TRP ratings of the entertainment industry are its viewers who prefer watching Rakhi Sawant basking under all the publicity courtesy her controversial kiss with Mika or the immortal Baa of one of the K serials which gives a boost to the gossip-mongers in media and giving more footage to "junk news". So the first step to fight the augmentation of Yellow Journalism would be to cleanse our thought process and to differentiate between right and wrong.

It is not astounding that yellow journalism has created a hue and cry in society and because it is a fact that the media is a very powerful and influential tool, which has, a great reach throughout the country. It has the power to either 'make or break' a person. But let's not be as aggressive as the Oscar-winner George Clooney, who considers the press to be "real jerks". In introspection let's be aware that the common man has the real power to decide what he wants to view and it is in his hands whether he wants to become a puppet in the hands of the star-crazy journalists. Moreover, we need to strike a "balance between rights of an individual to be let alone and the fundamental right (of the press) to freedom of speech, expression and information."

RITUJ CHOPRA is a 3rd year student pursuing B.A.LL.B (Hons) from Amity Law School, Noida and SUCHI SWAMI is a 3rd year student pursuing B.A.LL.B (Hons) from University School of Law and Legal Studies, GGS Indraprastha University, Delhi.
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