The news media and journalists will retain public trust in this changing environment if they stay true to cardinal principles and offer journalism that tells the truth as transparently as possible without bias or fear, Malini Parthasarathy, Chairperson of The Hindu Group Publishing Pvt Ltd and Director, Editorial Strategy, has said.

Delivering the ‘MV Kamath Endowment Lecture’ on the topic — ‘Retaining public trust in journalism in the digital age’ — organised by the Manipal Institute of Communication (MIC) in Manipal on Wednesday, she said: “By virtue of our wide reach to our audiences in a democratic society, it is indeed our duty to hold public officials accountable while not being overly pessimistic about the pace of transformation.”

She said it is a sad fact that over the decades, while digital technology has become a way of life and is a principal disseminator of news content, public scepticism about the news and media organisations is becoming more pronounced.

“Legacy brands, including ours, need to reckon with this relentless reality of digital technology becoming the main disseminator of content for consumers and thereby creating a connect with the users, shaping news content to align with the preferences of these consumers,” she said.

The gap that is emerging between the old modes of journalism and the new media platforms is also eroding public trust in the news industry, with social media appropriating to itself the role of the arbiter of the trustworthiness and credibility of news content and content providers.

Globally minded audience

Unlike past decades, when star editors were able to impress their reading public with their analyses and punditry and when readers were in thrall of editorialists offering judgment and savoured news reports on every page of the newspaper, we are now faced with a young, aspirational and globally minded audience that wants to be informed rather than educated, she said.

Stating that digital disruption and a noisy social media do complicate and undermine the relationship that audiences have with the news media, she said the challenge worldwide and in India in particular has been the increasingly stressful pressure on the media and the public discourse.

Gone are the days when the Government or party spokespersons were eager to engage the press in conversations about critical public policy issues. There is a clear tendency to bypass the mainstream media by communicating only through social media and radio, thereby not developing a healthy discourse where public officials are more transparently accountable.

Propaganda wars

Malini Parthasarathy said social media sites have also become battlegrounds for contestation between political parties, with the media becoming a hapless protagonist in these unsavoury propaganda wars, with their news content being used as cannon fodder for sparking new political controversies. In the process of trying to take down the opposing political view, the media gets dragged into these controversies, sometimes losing its sheen and gravitas.

“Finally, does our rapidly changing media environment presage the fading away of traditional news media and the ebbing of the glamour of journalism and journalists? The answer is a categorical ‘No’,” Malini Parthasarathy said.

A subtle characteristic of this post-digital society with the abundance of unregulated news content on platforms is that the consumer looking for verified and factually correct information would still seek out credible sites of such information, she said.

“We must ensure that we are not ostriches in the sand and that we are on top of the rapidly changing technology environment. We should function with the latest tools of digital technology even as we engage intelligently with media platforms, ensuring our brands stay connected with our audiences online and offline,” she added.

HS Ballal, Pro Chancellor of Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), spoke on the occasion. Padma Rani, Director of MIC, welcomed the gathering. Narayan Sabhahit, Registrar of MAHE, was present on the occasion.