Ranjona Banerji: Yes, Karan Thapar, TV debates can sink further – and they have!

12 Feb,2013

By Ranjona Banerji


TV host and columnist Karan Thapar very kindly articulated in his Sunday column in the Hindustan Times what many of us have been saying for a while now: TV debates in India have reached rock bottom. Well, welcome to Irony Central. Because while Thapar was writing about what passed for debate after sociologist Ashis Nandy’s comments about lower caste corruption at the Jaipur Literary Festival last month, TV debate delved deeper than rock bottom when it came to the execution of Afzal Guru. (http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/ColumnsKaranThapar/TV-a-Mea-Culpa/Article1-1009279.aspx)


Given that we have to take any subject and then imagine all the possible, probable and delusionary scenarios around it, Guru’s hanging gave us in the media a field day. First, we had to try and create a Bharatiya Janata Party versus the rest slugfest. Not satisfied with that, we then had to make it a this-terrorist-versus-that-terrorist yelling match. When that did not create enough fireworks, we had to jump into why did the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir do what he did, say what he did and more.


The word “should” now dominates our TV screens. It is flashed at us thousands of times a day: Should the government do this, shouldn’t the government do that, should he had said this, shouldn’t she have said that: the points where the news itself is actually shared or discussed has almost vanished. Instead, we are confronted with a barrage of judgmental possibilities.


Unfortunately, none of these postures leads to any meaningful conversation or insights. Everyone on TV it seems wants to score cheap points off the other and all discourse is either limited to one-upmanship or attack. If any of these people who invade our homes every night and assault our senses were part of a school debate, they would be summarily dismissed the minute they opened their mouths.


There are undoubtedly questions to be asked about Guru’s hanging, about the death penalty, about those who wait on death row, about legal aid, about others accused of terrorist acts, about political support for some of the accused, about the complicated politics of India, about the bloodthirsty nature of our populace – these are only some of them. But you would not have found an iota of sense from TV.


Why Indian news TV does not occasionally abandon its love for traditional Indian theatre forms like tamasha and jatra and try one-on-one interviews with experts to illuminate an issue is puzzling. (To be fair, Karan Thapar does.) Is the only reason for these debates to create a spectacle or is there some journalistic purpose still discernible to anyone? It is certainly not apparent to me.


Meanwhile, for those inclined here is a debate carried in The Hindu over Guru’s hanging. First do read the piece by author Arundhuti Roy and then a response by journalist Praveen Swami.








I will not repeat that to make sense of any issue you have to read a newspaper… all right, I have just repeated it and it remains true.




To further illustrate the point, on Monday night, CNNIBN had an excellent exclusive story about the CBI accusing its own prosecutor in the 2G spectrum case of colluding with an accused. In an interview with the CBI director Ranjit Sinha, editor Rajdeep Sardesai kept on with the same line of questioning: will you do this and will you do that. Why not ask the director about corporate corruption, about the quality of prosecutors, about the difficulty of the 2G case. By focusing on a possible result at all times and to the exclusion of everything else, we lose out on the nuances.


I for one refuse to believe that all Indians are too dumb to understand anything but the most obvious and cannot comprehend anything that it is not presented in a high-pitched hysterical manner.




And while we’re on this 2G case, perhaps it is time for the media to revisit the Radia tapes and assess whether enough has been done to safeguard our credibility. Sorry, excuse me while I die laughing.


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