Ranjona Banerji: Tedious TV discussions

19 Dec,2012

By Ranjona Banerji

 

I usually dislike Piers Morgan on CNN. He seems Uriah Heepish in his manner as he sucks up to Americans and doubly so if his guests happen to be celebrities. He also has a tendency to try and be American and during elections will say “us” and “we” to his guests. But after the Oregon mall shooting and then the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, Morgan found that “us” and “we” didn’t quite work for him any more and his discourse became about “you” and “me’. He even went to the extent of telling one gun-happy guest that this was his show and the guest had better stop speaking!

 

He has fought bitterly with gun lobbies and berated America for its need to bear arms as well as trotted out stats about how the rest of the world – including his native Britain – managed without nine guns in every household. If Morgan was tough after Oregon, he was absolutely furious after Connecticut.

 

Of course, one can understand Morgan’s disgust and it is quite incredible how the American media has also sidestepped around this gun control issue in spite of the heart-breaking regularity of gun-related violence in that country.

 

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The terrible incident this week in Delhi where a girl was gang-raped on a bus and she and her boyfriend beaten up, stripped and thrown off the bus, has filled the whole nation with despair. However it is difficult to see how TV debates on this subject are necessary. What can anyone possibly say that it is not anodyne, platitudinous, outraged or has not been said before? Little fruitful is gained from these discussions and if guests shout over each other – which is common – it trivialises the incident.

 

It perhaps makes more sense for TV anchors to interview those in charge and those who can shed some further light on the issue. For instance, talk to the police over slow and shoddy investigations, lawyers over the slow legal system and sociologists on how to improve gender relations and activists on their experiences.

 

Also, the formula of “one BJP, one Congress, two lawyers” for every single subject of discussion is getting tedious. One understands that India is short of experts – and years of working on edit pages of newspapers has hardened this viewpoint – but all that means is that a little more hard work is required to dig up fresh, informed voices.

 

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The prank call by two radio jockeys in Australia which led to the suicide of an Indian nurse in the UK raises several questions for the media. Yes, pranks are fun and yes, a sense of humour is an excellent way to get through life without taking it too seriously. But this prank – the two RJs mimicked Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles to get information on Kate nee Middleton now Duchess of Cornwall’s condition after she was admitted to hospital after complaining of morning sickness.

 

The nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, took the first call and passed it on to the nurse on duty who gave out the details. In her suicide notes, Saldanha blamed both the RJs and the hospital authorities.

 

The trouble is that pranks usually work when they target someone famous and when they do not divulge too deep into personal details. This prank failed on both counts. The RJs could not have foreseen Saldanha’s suicide but the radio station could have foreseen that such a call would put the jobs of those who spoke to them at risk. Had they called Queen Elizabeth and made fun of her that would have been another matter. But it should have been clear that the only victims here would be the nurses.

 

One can only advise senior editors to frown upon schoolboy pranks masquerading as journalism. The BBC incident springs to mind here.  Comedian Russell Brand and TV host Jonathan Ross called character actor Andrew Sachs (best known for playing Manuel in the comedy series Fawlty Towers) and told him how Brand had slept with his granddaughter. Needless, insulting and not really that funny at all and certainly Ross paid the price for it.

 

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