Ranjona Banerji: No checks, no balance on News TV

14 Aug,2014

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Sometimes you have to give thanks that you did not ever and will not either work in news television. The way 24-hour TV works, there is nowhere to run nowhere to hide. In India at least, it appears to operate minus news editors, subeditors, any kind of check or balance at all. Instead, you have the sense of a bizarre newsroom populated by reporters and anchors lost in an endless spiral of now what.

 

Oddly, the few (admittedly few) times that I have been a guest on TV or radio, I have had a producer in my ear communicating with me. Obviously that is not possible with all reporters. But is there not some way in which someone can speak to them off air to prevent them from blabbing the same thing again and again and then have the anchor paraphrasing what they have just said?

 

This morning I heard a young reporter mention the phrase “of course” about six times per sentence on a particularly boring report. If the reporter is not droning on and the anchor is not paraphrasing then both are editorialising.

 

Meanwhile, it takes a viewer who has just switched on the TV ages to find out just what everyone is editorialising about: the kernel of the news is forgotten as the cycle moves on to reaction. Times Now is particularly good at this: the hysteria about the news is far more important than the news itself. The various running scrolls and stationary text matter on the screen reveal nothing either.

 

It is true that none of what I am saying here is new but it is also true that nothing changes. For instance, something happened this morning (Thursday) with an aeroplane flying over Turkey. The scrolls were outraged about a) a pilot sleeping b) a plane losing altitude c) a co-pilot on a tablet d) a DGCA inquiry. However after 10 minutes of watching I cannot tell you which airline the plane belonged to, what exactly happened, what is the situation with the plane now and whether there was any damage or anyone suffered.

 

I can tell you that outrage about looking for blame was beginning – as far as the running scrolls were concerned. The pictures on the screen however were about something else completely. I have to concede that my age and my experience in print journalism are of no possible use here at all. I still cannot fathom how the whole shebang functions and why a small dose of self-preservation if not professionalism cannot be introduced into news television.

 

It’s a mug’s life as all TV journalists will tell you – even those who spend their free time signing autographs!

 

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Primetime TV meanwhile continues with its nightly debates and it is truly a wondrous aspect of the human condition that we are able to manage so much anger over so little. We need to congratulate ourselves.

 

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The death of actor Robin Williams – by his own hand, from reports – led someone on Fox News to call him a “coward”. Williams suffered from severe depression and Fox News has demonstrated once again why it is a pathetic excuse for a news channel. Imagine what we have in store for us if it actually arrives on Indian shores, as has long been speculated.

 

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I watched 10 minutes of a programme on Zee Cafe called “Look who’s talking to Niranjan”. The problem was, I knew who was talking to Niranjan – first Karan Johar and then Kajol. But I had no clue who Niranjan was! Surely there was some way of letting me know before I inflicted this show on myself?

 

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