When Indian TV woke up late

19 Dec,2011

By Ranjona Banerji

 

What is news? What has happened or what you think your viewers/readers want to know about. All the news that’s fit to print is the motto of The New York Tines but does that make any sense to our TV channels? As news broke of the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il – first on Al Jazeera on Monday morning. As BBC and CNN interrupted their regular bulletins, Al Jazeera had already put together a package. In India however news was divided between Anna Hazare’s latest plans, the whereabouts of Pakistani something-or-the-other Veena Malik and something about Rahul Dravid which I did not waste time on. It took at least half an hour for Indian TV to wake up to “breaking news”.

 

“Dumbing down” as a concept is most insulting to those it is aimed at – readers and viewers of the news. It implies that they are too stupid to understand events and can only digest a tasty amalgam of entertainment news and whatever can be dramatised and sensationalised. Yet, one would assume that a change of diet with truly “breaking news” should occasionally be alternated with pap, so that the system does not become incapable of dealing with change.

 

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Meanwhile, Anna Hazare and his antics continue to keep the media busy. As he hops all over the country, the camera follow. We understand that the biggest showdown of all is about to take place in Mumbai on December 27 when more people than were at Ramlila Maidan will apparate themselves in solidarity. Sorry to use Harry Potter jargon, but it sounds a bit like that to me.

 

My maths teachers convinced me long ago that I had little understanding of this magical subject and it has largely remained a mystery to me. But even I can extrapolate that 100,000 people is a mere drop in the ocean when compared to India’s population of 1.2 billion. However, TV and newspapers continue to assure us that Anna Hazare represents all the people of India and when we express doubt, they bring on Kiran Bedi who can shout it at us till we retire hurt.

 

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Time Magazine’s award of the ‘Person of the Year’ to ‘The Protestor’ was a masterful stroke. Indeed it has been, from Tunisia, Egypt, Yeman, Libya and Syria right up to the Occupy Wall Street movement. In a sense, India Against Corruption activists also fall into this category, but CNN-IBN, showing a slight shortfall of imagination, gave their award to Anna Hazare. Is this stating the obvious or acknowledging the Indian propensity to create icons and god-like figures out of thin air? Or even worse, an example of TV’s need to legitimise its own news choices?

 

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In happier news, Sunday supplements were full of ways to celebrate the party season, what to eat, what to buy and what to gift. Gingerbread houses and other such delights took the mind away from the hurly-burly right to where it matters – the stomach. Or was it the wallet?

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