Shailesh Kapoor: Prime Time News Is Facing Spokesperson Crisis

16 Oct,2015

By Shailesh Kapoor


If you are a regular primetime news viewer, you will be familiar with the various “official spokespersons” that represent their political parties on these shows. The debate format, which will be associated with Arnab Goswami for years to come, is now a standard format across most channels, Hindi and English.


Being an official spokesperson is not an easy job by any stretch of imagination. You have to be on upto four shows on the same day, for an average duration of 30-45 minutes each. So that’s potentially three hours of on-air time. Add the preparation time during the day and it’s a full-time job. It’s also a job of superhero proportions. Sometimes, you are “live” on two channels at the same time, saying different things!


It would still be a rewarding job, but for the obvious problem. Spokespersons speak for less than 30% of the time that they are on-air. And of the time they speak, not more than 30-40% is actually audible in the perpetual din.


To improve their player stats, they exercise their need to speak more, interrupting others and talking over them. It seems like a party boss is watching and evaluating their performance in real-time (very likely too) and there’s the pressure to perform.


What it has resulted in is a perpetual degeneration of the quality of spokespersons. No self-respecting and intelligent man or woman would want to subject oneself to this futility night after night. What we get, hence, is second-rung talent.


However, it’s not just the lack of quality that worries me. There’s a lot of arrogance at display every night. Spokespersons, taking a cue from each other and sometimes from the anchors (who are under their own pressures to be Arnabs), often talk in offensive tone and body language, sometimes talking down to unsuspecting non-politicians and even citizens invited on the show.


If this style of talking is a party brief, then it reflects very poorly on our political class. Though I suspect political parties have left their spokesperson free to figure out their life on-air. In which case, the arrogance of behaviour displayed on TV reflects their character. In either case, it makes the citizen viewer feel more disillusioned about the political class.


Not very long ago, the likes of Ravi Shankar Prasad, Manish Tewari and Jayanti Natarajan used to be party spokespersons. While they too had their bouts of impudence, there was certain stature and grace that came with their personas. At least one heard them seriously, even if the content was not credible on many occasions.


Why are parties not sending better talking heads on TV, or at least training those being sent to project a dignified image of the party on-air? Is dignity not in vogue, or are news channels too irrelevant in our politics for parties to worry about? I suspect it’s the former.


Many of us comment on social media that we are losing interest in news television because of journalism in general, and the quality of anchoring in particular. What about the quality of political representation? For me, that’s the problem with more social gravity attached to it.


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