Ranjona Banerji: TV debates are sound, fury with nothing significant

13 Jul,2012

By Ranjona Banerji


TV debates, it should now be universally acknowledged, have become a bore. This is not the fault of the news channels but of their guests. Though I suppose one could blame them for not getting better guests the way you might disagree with the way a newspaper chooses its columnists or edit page writers. I digress. Since my cablewallah condescended to give me CNN-IBN again, I decided to try and watch it. Karan Thapar on The Last Word tried to work out what he called the “natak in Karnatak”. A needless pun perhaps, based on two different language families being expressed in a third language, but never mind. Nirmala Seetharaman of the BJP was probably tired of being politely defensive so barely let anyone speak. Earlier in the week on Times Now, Smriti Irani as part of a discussion on P Chidambaram’s comment about the middle class being happy to spend money on ice-cream and bottled water but not petrol, shouted so much that she drowned everyone else out. She also moved the subject around so much that the rest of the guests were left quite bemused.


Even more puzzled was Nidhi Razdan of NDTV on Thursday night when a discussion on Sharad Yadav’s comment that temple funds need some sort of regulation was turned into some long defence of Hindus being targeted by Tarun Vijay of the BJP. The other guests were equally amazed since no one had said anything derogatory about Hindus. Most in fact felt the government had a bad track record in managing temple funds and that was not the solution. In the second discussion on Razdan’s show about PA Sangma’s presidential campaign, Vijay accused senior journalist Kumar Ketkar of being prejudiced against people from the North-east even though Ketkar had not said a word about the North-east at all.


Does this sound like I’m targeting spokespersons for the BJP? It is however surprising that for a party which is so media savvy normally, it has to depend on people who are so incapable of carrying on a discussion in a civilised manner. They just make the other parties look better, even if they are hardly deserving of that.


I could not watch CNN-IBN any further because it went back to the fight in the civil aviation apparatus over Kingfisher Airlines which Arnab Goswami also took on later. By this time I was bored and the faces all looked the same. Headlines Today had no sound so I could not indulge myself in the battles of the two Rahuls.


The fight against “apathy” and “indifference” on Times Now remains interesting however. The squirming by doctors as they tried to somehow explain why ward boys and cleaners were standing in for them in UP hospitals was amusing, especially when they were attacked by members of the public. The strike by UP doctors also attacked by callers, to which there was really no answer.


But at the end of all this, these debates are just sound and fury signifying nothing. It is not the media’s job to find solutions but there is not even any food for thought to be found in these discussions. People invited to TV studios need to work a little harder on how they sound when they lose control of their thought processes and their behaviour. They’re becoming like MLAs in our legislative assembles. News channels must invest in silencer buttons for unruly panellists. Or come down to the lowest common denominator and become like the Jerry Springer show with physical combat as part of the entertainment.


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