Ranjona Banerji: Anyone for news in the papers and on telly?

18 Aug,2015

By Ranjona Banerji


Is watching endless TV news an addiction? Until Ted Turner invented 24-hour news television with CNN, broadcast news was an evening bulletin or updates on the radio. And even CNN in its early days had many feature programmes like Elsa Klensch on style, which I still miss although I have not seen it for decades. The 1991 Gulf War gave CNN its defining moment. And whichever part of the world had satellite TV was glued to scuds and Patriot missiles zipping through the night sky. And Benjamin Netanyahu, as he was known then, acting as tourist guide to a young Christiane Amanpour. Many young or wannabe journalists then decided that they wanted to be Christiane Amanpour and become world famous on TV. Netanyahu decided he wanted to become prime minister of Israel.


The editor of the magazine I worked for then even booked a room at a nearby hotel so that we the lowly staff could see this phenomenon for ourselves. But the essence of 24-hour news television has become in India a series of high-octane slanging matches, as we all know. And even as people fulminate against it, they watch it anyway. It’s like a compulsion, an addiction. And the more they complain, the more they watch.


In print, the criticism from readers is usually about too many advertisements and too much entertainment and glamour news. But sadly, these complaints usually do not reflect any research done by print journals. In most cases, readers love the glamour stuff and ignore the serious matter. It is as if readers are railing against their own weaknesses. Just for a moment, ask yourself that if the Economic and Political Weekly had the resources of Bennett Coleman, if it could top the Times of India in terms of circulation and readership without changing its content?


Paddy Chayefsky’s brilliant story for Sidney Lumet’s brilliant 1976 film Network laid bare the sheer depravity that ratings-driven news television can descend to. However, in India, we seem to have taken our “discussions” to our own version of incredible lows. I am amazed that people keep watching them. The formula is so set (one this party, one that party, two agent provocateurs and the anchor – barring a couple – adding fuel to the fire he or she has lit) that it rivals those terrible Bollywood films of the late 1980s.


And yet, people watch them.


I have almost completely stopped watching news television however. I only watch when there is a news event. I read newspapers and I rely on the internet. It is safer, less stressful and frankly, even if I stare into space like a zombie after 9 pm, my time would be better spent.


How many others like me are there? Am I part of a growing tribe or am I an anomaly? I am starting to wonder…




Living in smalltown India with iffy connectivity with big media centres, newspapers take a while to cue in. As far as the English print media goes however, the Times of India’s local coverage has improved drastically. Stories focus on the civic, environmental and government issues. Doon, Mussourie and Hardwar get ample coverage and stories from the Kumaon region are also increasing. National news is no longer two days late to reach the press. In fact sometimes it is on par with the later editions. Doon Times, the entertainment supplement however, is struggling. Local glamour is still in short supply and often we have to admire the different display portraits that local young people put up on their social media accounts. No, really.


Unfortunately, the best local newspaper until now, the tabloid Garhwal Post, appears to be slipping as a result. Ads have dried up and with that, actual news content. Instead we get a selection of press release news. I do miss the days when we would be delighted by stories like: “Crowd gathers on Rajpur Road as man parks his car and goes away for four hours”. Now can I make something like that up?


The best English Doon paper though is the Tribune. On point in every way. Remarkable.


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