Ranjona Banerji: Fight of the Uber Patriots begins

18 Apr,2017

By Ranjona Banerji

 

Watching local TV news in England in Easter weekend almost makes me take back all the ranting and raving I’ve done about Indian TV news. We learnt about one Nestle office in London allowing dogs into work, six schools somewhere in the North of England attaching cameras to sheep pens so that children could learn about sheep through “lamb cams”, the weather, an elephant hospital in Thailand, the weather, the death of a 117-year-old woman, the weather, Spanish bluebells overwhelming English bluebells in the woodlands, the weather..

In between, there were two tiny segments on Donald Trump dropping the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan and Kim Jong-un of North Korea making war-like noises. However, not much time was wasted on this until we went back to the weather and lamb cams.

There is a lot of talk, some of it scary, about news being tailored and customised according to one’s internet search patterns and social media accounts. We all live in our own “echo chambers” where we only hear what we want to hear, which is one thing. The other is that someone – a mathematical algorithm or some evil marketing control freak – decides what we need to hear depending on what we like the rest of the while.

None of these nightmare internet scenarios has much to do with TV news or the choices a news editor or an executive producer (all right, all right, I watched most of The Newsroom) is free to make in a regular newsroom. These are “judgment calls” someone in editorial or more likely in marketing makes during, for instance, the Easter weekend. It is also second-guessing the viewer and second-rating his or her intelligence: Because it’s a holiday, people will not want to know about the president of America dropping a massive bomb. Instead, they will want to fret about bluebells and passing showers.

News is always about choices. But sometimes, maybe a demonic algorithm may be more apt?

 

**

 

Meanwhile in wacko TV news land in India, a Fight of the Uber Patriots appears to be brewing. Apparently, either Times Now or India Today TV – according to various reports I have read – has sent a legal notice to ArnabGoswami threatening him not to use the phrase “The Nation wants to know” in his yet-to-be-launched channel, Republic TV.

As any regular news watcher knows, Goswami as lead actor of Times Now was by far the most patriotic of all. But since he went off-air in November last year, there has been a massive rush for his former Uber Patriot Best Nationalist Title ever. The first two applicants and self-appointed title-holders have been Rahul Kanwal and Gaurav Sawant of India Today TV.  Rahul Shivshankar then of NewsX quit as quickly as he could and rushed to Times Now, thinking sitting in Goswami’s chair could win him the title.

But before he could get there, Sawant stole a march on everyone. He followed UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s calves (as in baby cows not lower legs, though, well, who knows) as they frolicked about, he applauded the army tying a “stone pelter” to the front of an army jeep in Kashmir because in Uber Patriot land, neither the Yogi nor cows nor the army can do any wrong.

And now, just when the award was within the grasp of so many “I love my bigoted idea of India more than you do” TV journalists, the original King Cobra has raised his hood and hissed with venom. He has dared the threatening rival channel, in a Youtube clip, to “do everything you can, spend all the money you have and arrest me… Viewers, the phrase “Nation wants to know” belongs to you, to me, and to all of us, every citizen of this country”.

Cue in some patriotic music, either the National Anthem or the other song which bigots prefer or some AR Rahman song, pop the corn in the microwave and enjoy the rest of this show. Who will win the title? The nation, um, maybe wants to know?

 

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