Ranjona Banerji: Childish, hysterical, inane News TV

30 Jul,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

The sheer childishness of Indian television news hits you like a gale force wind when you switch on after a break. This phenomenon is compounded by the fact that my newspaper vendor appears to be sulking with me! I have been surfing through all the news channels at our disposal and am hard-pressed to find one that I can stick with.

 

The most amusing I could find was – nothing new here – Times Now. The little headlines for their poll on the next general elections (Jayalalitha juggernaut, Jagan blockbuster debut and so on) are reminiscent of the work of newspaper subs from the 1980s who have had to come up with a barrage of headlines while working on a special issue close to deadline. Anything goes. Of course, what was fun in the 1980s is just some fuddy-duddy stuff in 2013.

 

The time warp that Indian TV is lost in however just relates to the written matter. No Wren and Martin or any other grammar books may be in evidence but the writing is arcane. But when it comes to the representation of news, then the sheer inanity of what is on offer is pure 21st century India. Skims the surface, minus depth and just careens from one hysterical breathless breaking bit of nothing to another.

 

How about a comparison with the British TV coverage of the birth of the royal baby? They took a fairly trivial if engaging event and attempted to give it gravitas, sometimes with hilarious consequences. We take grave events and then try to make them as trivial as possible. It is an art which is quite commendable, if you look at it minus bias.

 

The very strange personal squabble between two (great?) economists Amartya Sen and Jagdish Bhagwati is a good example. Usually, such worthies would have quarrelled in some inaccessible scholarly journal in suitably erudite jargon (one hopes…). Instead, they took each other on in the mainstream media and even more incredibly in the broadcast media. So you had Bhagwati saying that he had done everything first long before Sen, then you had Sen saying he was hurt by the personal attacks people made on him. This spilled over in their newspaper writings and interviews. The result was that their scholarly stars dimmed and their economic theories remained opaque. It is a worthy knack of the media to take intelligent academics and make them sound like gibbering fools.

 

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Trying to understand the news through the social media is even funnier than television, it has to be admitted. Social media operates between derision and outrage which means that all events get skewed and it is impossible to make sense of anything. Yet, for all that, social media is an excellent aggregator of news and you can browse through a vast variety of articles and opinions from across the world which may not have otherwise come your way.

 

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The fight in the media as far as the next Indian general elections are concerned has been between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi. But one might suggest that the Indian electorate is given to complexity in its reactions and this simple two-horse race might just be a chimera that entertains but amounts to little more than a distraction from more substantial issues. (If I was a 21st century person, I would have used the erroneous substantive here and got away with it! Alas…)

 

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Is it just me or do other people reach for the remote when news channels try to give us “positive” news? I knew it. Just me.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator based in Mumbai. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. She can be reached via Twitter at @ranjona. The views here are her own

 

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