Sometimes, we don’t know how to express our disquiet when we come across a piece of less-than-responsible content in the media.
I recently watched a video on YouTube posted by a local FM radio station, where a radio jockey calls up a man whose wife had just given birth a week ago. The RJ informs the man that there has been a mistake on behalf of the hospital and that their baby had been swapped with somebody else’s.
The man gets angered and starts to shout at the RJ in disbelief. Then the mother gets to hear about this and reacts equally violently. At the end of the five-minute video, the RJ reveals that it was a prank call, all in the spirit of fun.
Fun? Fun for whom?
The RJ says the couple’s other child -- who is a regular listener of the show -- had contacted them. The RJ tells them that their first child felt ignored by her parents after the birth of the newborn and had called the RJ to make fun of her parents through her show.
What a ridiculous theme for a prank call.
Prank call-related programs have been around ever since the radio and television have existed as mediums. I’ve worked at an FM radio station myself, but I’ve never listened to anything quite as absurd. There’s a limit to joking about people’s personal lives, and this, especially, is a subject too sensitive to poke fun at.
We all know that prank calls on radio or television are usually elaborate set-ups, which often even involve the “contestants” as willing participants. Now, maybe the couple knew about the caller and were in on the joke. But that’s not really the point.
Have we thought of the social implications that putting such a prank show on air might have? Was this prank call a responsible decision on part of the radio station? I doubt it.
Have we thought of the social implications that putting such a prank show on air might have?
Without going into the details of the language and Bangla pronunciation of the RJ, I’d request the radio stations to plan their programs a bit more responsibly. Adding a disclaimer at the beginning of the video is not enough.
To that end, I humbly request the Ministry of Information to assess the existing content in FM radio stations. Millions of our youth listen to these stations almost every day, and they need to maintain a certain level of quality.
This reminds me of an incident in 2003 when I took a part-time job at a monthly lifestyle magazine. One day, during the monthly planning meeting, a responsible senior proposed that we should run a story on “how to dump a boyfriend.” I vehemently objected, saying that “we don’t want people to dump one another -- we must not publish any kind of socially negative story.” Instead, I suggested we publish stories on “how to fix relationships.” My senior official did not listen to me and ran the story of his choice simply because the subject seemed “saucy” to him.
If you ask me, it was an extremely un-smart thing to do. What did we achieve by running a story that promoted breakups? Nothing, actually. Rather, we sent a message that would help in social disintegration.
Saucy items may sell, but that doesn’t always mean that we have to sell it. As content, pornography sells the most, but that doesn’t inspire us to publish extreme sexual content on lifestyle magazines, does it?
Having cited the above two incidents, I would like to humbly say that the job of the media is more than just making money, more than just entertaining its audience. The responsibility of the media goes beyond that. One has to remember this aspect while running a media organization.
Ekram Kabir is a story-teller and a columnist.