Ranjona Banerji: News or Entertainment?

13 Mar,2015

By Ranjona Banerji

 

This is a story which I heard the other day. A friend who lives abroad went to a restaurant in Mumbai one evening to get some food packed. He found that the TV screens were all on Arnab Goswami and Times Now. He asked the owner how he could bear it. The owner laughed and said, “But sir, this is more entertaining than any soap or serial.”

 

I write this as several media commentators have made some very succinct, incisive and well-argued comments on the damage done to journalism by Goswami in his crusader mode, especially when he fought for India’s image with his #NirbhayaInsulted hashtags, railing against the India’s Daughter documentary.

 

However, I might want to argue that in many ways TV in India has gone beyond journalism. There is almost no space for the boring, anodyne, journalistic stuff any longer. It’s now all hysterics, outrage, anger, reaction and provocation. And finally, you just have to laugh. I would argue that Goswami is a pioneer in India who has redefined TV news. There was a time when I compared him to Howard Beale in Sidney Lumet’s 1976 classic Network. But Goswami has gone beyond Beale and created a distinct and enviable persona of his own. The mood at dinner time or in drawing rooms rises and falls to the cadences of his voice as he builds up his case for the night.

 

And whether they admit it or not, half the news anchors in India either emulate, copy or want to be like him. There are a few who are hanging on to their shreds of sanity. And there are some star TV anchors who bemoan what TV has done to journalism. But those are just the last remnants of a lost civilisation.

 

News is now entertainment in India and it will take a revolution to change that.

 

**

 

The most intriguing love-hate relationship in India is between TV journalists and the Aam Aadmi Party. When it was the India Against Corruption movement, TV loved it. TV cameras exaggerated crowd figures as did reporters. TV anchors made us believe the whole country had come to a standstill. Even I believed it and dragged a friend interested in politics to Azad Maidan with me to watch this phenomenon. It was sorely disappointing to watch a straggling crowd of a few hundred when I had been led to believe it was thousands. Luckily, the Mumbai Press Club and cheap Old Monk is close enough to drown all sorrows and outrage at TV, er, lies.

 

That was 2011. Since then it was been a very rocky relationship between TV and Kejriwal and clan. No other political party in India, and this is in spite of all the efforts of Sanghi trolls and Congi agents, has been under such close scrutiny as the AAP. Every move it makes or doesn’t make is analysed in high decibel theatrics.

 

The AAP has been peculiarly obliging to the media too, letting itself and its supporters down with clockwork regularity. All its shenanigans seem to be made for TV too, with sting operations and press conferences and public dissent and revolution. AAP and TV media are now involved in one of those symbiotic or parasitic relationships you read about in nature, where one organism cannot survive against the other.

 

All the established parties can spend millions and try as much as they like to win PR battles. AAP has figured out the publicity game perfectly even if it is often to its own detriment.

 

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