Ranjona Banerji: Country can’t be held ransom to career ambitions of anchors

25 Jan,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

As journalists, we are expected to develop some sort of responsibility about our larger role in society. This can occasionally go beyond the spicy story and the exciting scoop. But now twice in a short span, we have seen TV going overboard over rather dangerous subjects. The first was the extreme jingoism displayed over skirmishes at the LOC between India and Pakistan. I quote from an edit page piece by Arun Prakash, former navy chief, in Friday’s Times of India: “If the incipient Indo-Pak crisis of the past fortnight had any lesson to convey, it was that the road to perdition is lined with shrill, hysterical TV anchors, bloodthirsty politicians and a seemingly somnolent national security establishment.”

 

It is a damning indictment of the TV media and no less true for all that. And now, India and Pakistan having “stepped back from the brink” to quote Prakash, we have TV jumping into the treacherous waters of Hindu-Muslim relations. By overplaying and then seeking out endless reactions to Union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s remarks about terror camps and the RSS and BJP, TV anchors are attacking a fault line that has in the past created massive disruptions in Indian society.

 

It is all very well that some TV anchors became famous by covering wars and others became famous by covering riots but the country can hardly be held ransom to these career ambitions. A quick look at how newspapers have treated Shinde’s remarks – and the BJP’s reactions – and you get a clear indication of how a more mature, experienced mind functions. This is not a game.

 

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Headlines Today has decided to look ahead to the next general elections and make its own forecasts through opinion polls. This faith in election forecasting is indeed endearing – most got it wrong at the recent Gujarat assembly elections for instance. The general elections are due somewhere in mid-2014. Anything is possible in the interim and it is amazing to see that a media house puts its faith in a survey done now.

 

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I would have thought – foolishly as it turns out – that the Justice Verma committee report on rape laws would have got better play in the media. Reports on the report were scattered across pages making negotiation a little difficult without a GPS tracking device. Analysis has also been insufficient – so far – although The Indian Express has an edit page piece by Pratiksha Baxi which does shed some light:

 

Perhaps, people are still reading through the report and trying to understand it?

 

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I met some second-year students of a prestigious Mumbai college yesterday, studying the BMM course. I was asked why when I started my career I had opted to be a sub-editor when I could have been a journalist. This question I confess stumped me for a good five minutes. I tried to explain that everyone who works in the editorial section of a journal is a journalist (I’m guessing the same applies to news channels!) but all I got was a blank stare. A journalist, from what I now understand, is a reporter. That’s it. So let that be a lesson to all of you swanking around behaving like journalists when in fact, you are nothing.

 

A few more questions and I discover where they come from: the bulk of their faculty are their own ex-students, with little or no experience. As long as HR departments believe that only people who do these bogus courses are worth hiring, senior journalists (reporters, sub-editors all) must take a greater interest in media courses across the country. No?

 

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2 responses to “Ranjona Banerji: Country can’t be held ransom to career ambitions of anchors”

  1. pm says:

    In my view a news presenter is quite different to a programme host and should not be accorded the same status. A news presenter is no more than a robot in human clothing ! they’re either a pretty face or a smart chap, articulate and mildly intelligent. In addition they should ideally have a pleasant on screen appearance. in many ways they’re no different to the ‘weather girl ‘ who is by no stretch a met expert. The weather girl simply reads the numbers and smiles at the right time – and not even that sometimes. Now – if they come across as being any good or they happen to have an edge to their personality and are seen as being knowledgeable and credible they get given additional responsibility and get elevated to the next level, to that of a field reporter and some of the good ones make it to editor. A news anchor generally has no vote on what gets presented in the news and doesn’t get to ask any questions of their own. A sheep in wolf’s clothing in other words.

    A programme host on the other hand is supposedly a qualified person with a considerably higher level of knowledge of the subject that is being discussed and has an audience pulling power. They do their research and ask the questions and then demand the answers. So if you don’t like what you see on a programme, nail the editor or the host.

    Blaming a news anchor for the quality of news or the position of the channel is akin to shooting the messenger. So if you don’t like what you see on a channel , blame the editor – not the news anchors. Hopefully they’re not the same person.

    • ranjona banerji says:

      In most cases in English television in India, the star news anchor and the editor are the same.

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