Ranjona Banerji: Ad gains over news at TOI

22 Feb,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

A bare few hours after the serial blasts happened in Hyderabad our news channels were on their usual inquisitorial quest for answers to questions only they wanted answered. A person who does not spend his or her life in front of a TV screen would have had little clue about what had happened but would know that the chief minister has visited (why, though if he hadn’t the question would have been why not), that the Union home ministry had sent indications (why had no one acted), that America had managed to pre-empt terror attacks (why can’t we) and was it the Lashkar-e-Taiba or Indian Mujahideen or a response to the hanging of Afzal Guru or a reaction to Union Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s comment about the RSS and BJP holding terror camps.

 

Yes, you might be wondering: what happened and in which part of Hyderabad, how many people died and how many were injured. For this you would have to read the scrolls running at the bottom of your TV screens since the Intifada was in full flow. I must give credit to Headlines Today for putting a Google map up on screen but since they didn’t contextualise the area – Dilsukhnagar – one was none the wiser.

 

By the time the newspapers arrived on Friday morning, none of Quasimodo’s questions were answered and instead we got the details of what had happened. When journalists are taught about the Five W’s and an H, no one tells them that ‘Why’ is the only question to be asked. Or maybe they do. Judging from what passes for instruction in journalism schools in India…

 

Of course, the only newspaper which could not answer the right questions was The Times of India’s Mumbai edition. Because it came covered in glossy orange selling something or the other and a tiny legend somewhere told you that, “This particular edition had to be released at 10 pm, which is much earlier than usual, for unavoidable reasons. For the latest news, please go to…”

 

The “unavoidable reasons” were clearly the money which was to be made and perhaps newspapers should just tell its readers the truth: “We have sacrificed the news today because so-and-so advertiser has come up with this daft idea and as a result we have had to change our printing and distributing schedules”. As to who the advertiser in this case was I cannot tell you as I threw the glossy orange paper aside and didn’t bother to look at the name and could not be bothered to pick it up again. Did anyone else pay attention and rush out and buy the product or service or whatever?

 

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There have been some complaints that the Indian media has not picked up on the Shahbagh protests in Dhaka. Many of these complaints are in the Indian media itself, but in the opinion sections. The Shahbagh protests are being compared to the Arab Spring and refer to the anger amongst young people that those who sided with Pakistan in the Bangladesh movement for freedom are not being sufficiently punished, amongst other things. The murder of one of the main organisers of the movement, a prominent blogger, has also angered lakhs of people.

 

Once again, the impact of social media cannot be underestimated. As for the Indian media, it is so obsessed with its own ideas that sometimes it forgets to look outside the window. Or maybe the windows are all covered in some glossy colourful newsprint provided by advertisers.

 

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My careful (or willy-nilly) assessment of the weather bulletins on BBC World has led me to this conclusion: the weather people at BBC World are bored sick of the weather, which to them was usually a search for wherever the sun was shining. So now they package weather news into peppy little nuggets of holiday information. This is the right time to go skiing in Austria, sun-worshipping in “Ibitha” and so on. Meanwhile, there may be hurricanes, typhoons, murderous snow storms, droughts and anything else happening, but who cares? Just pack your skis and head for Innsbruck.

 

Ranjona Banerji can be followed on twitter at @ranjona

 

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