Who should define how News is Served?

14 Mar,2018


By Sanjeev Kotnala


Who should decide how news is served?

In the recent times, social media has been up in arms, ranting about the pathetic insensitiveness demonstrated by the News media (TV, to be precise) while focussing on the death of an iconic actress. The decibel of protest was so high that one believed, given a free hand, these voices would lynch the anchors and news editors.

In fact, you, the viewer, only should decide what you watch!  You do that any way with the click of the remote. But, what if all channels in a genre (in this case News) were beaming the same content! The option still exists to switch off the idiot box and shift to another medium! Just like you do so comfortably in the digital medium.

Options always exist for people with some common sense.

However, in the recent times so-called super intellectuals, leaders of the masses, armchair activists with high decibel voice further amplified by silent tweets and re-tweets, the politically correct spineless social media gladiators have tried to be the reflection of acceptable social behaviour and guardian to rest of the nation.

They are convinced (once again) that news channels have overstepped the brief and were going out of their way to milk the situation. The channels have knowingly refused to be sensitive to the person the family or the circumstances.

The truth is that the public loved it. The viewers were hungry for more.

Everyone had theories, and everything was vague for too long. The channels played the game on the front-foot. Where was the time to think as rival channels joined the massacre of sensibilities?

There were few creative solutions to control the situation.

The advertisers should take the lead in stopping the ugly show on television.  Tell the channels enough is enough. They should do a collective blackout/ withdraw/ protest and not advertise for one day. And we believe channels will fall in line.

It is an abstract thought full of impossibilities.

I am aware of companies using such tactics in digital media and threatening a pull-out at a global level. And if for some magical reasons, if they do it with Indian news channels, the message will be driven home.

On the other side, this will open another front. We viewers don’t want advertisers to dictate or influence what we watch.  And why should they even think of controlling or influencing the news with their purse strings?! But then, knowing advertisers, they will never join forces for such a blatant act of aggression and try the power equation.

Advertisers do control non-news programming content by sponsorship and advertising.  As for the influence in the news, it is restricted in a very narrow corridor of selfish opportunities with possibilities of direct impact.

The industry associations can only suggest guidelines. They cannot intervene. The I&B ministry will not interfere. There was nothing illegal or of national interest.

They are intellectually divided on the degree of demonstrated stupidity and journalistic responsibilities.

The rule is simple.

What is watched is promoted and is viewed more.

What is sponsored is promoted is watched more.

What is watched and sponsored is produced more.

This simplistic equation fails to recognise the power of content.  If people stop watching, no one will sponsor, advertise or produce it.

On the other side, personally, I think, till it’s legally safe, control of news content must stay with the editorial, it’s their job to curate the content.

Now, this is where the news organisation structure, responsibilities, roles and aspirations start recolouring the reality.

There are unfortunately commitments, policies and internal guidelines, more constraints, few directional freedom for the editor to define the approach to a news item.

Content is there to maximise eyeballs glued for the longest time.

The TRP fight is a never-ending game.

We all know, where the buck grows.

Personally, I was frustrated with the news coverage, but then I could not find a legal angle to it.  All I did was the silent protest. I switched off the TV and went back to my video downloads.

It was this simple. If someone is willingly continuing with a legally approved socially acceptable activity as defined by the masses, who am I to stop?!

If tomorrow, marijuana or porn were declared legal, I could frame my point of view unless I decide to escalate the issue. Unfortunately, the armchair intellectually bright super-sensitive arrived-in-life-people just tweet and comment.

Sridevi was no doubt a public figure and a fantasy icon for many. She died in circumstances that were mysterious and not above suspicion. There were elements of the story that allowed the channels space to manoeuvre their take. Would it been right for the news channels to give a clean chit, be biased, polarised and over-sensitive? What if things turned the other way, would the same ugly brigade of misplaced emotions and logic will not lynch the channels for being favourable to the rich and famous?

The channel is first responsible to the audience.

And if one was to relax the neck, stop reading between the tweeter and Facebook, you will realise the masses at the bus stops and tea shops and women at the grocery stores and kitty parties were all interested in knowing more. Their crib was not the way content was presented but the limitation of what was available and looped for eternity.

We may call it voyeuristic journalism, but then most of us are voyeuristic bastards. We have a range of masks for every avatar. In our privacy, we remain true to our primal, basic instincts.

Every day we want a different saucy flesh of news to bite into. No wonder people entrusted with the job of providing us with the right flavour of the day and serve us our package are pressurised. They are playing a game where winners take all.

The news is a small section of total TV viewership. But the fight is big out there. There are no rules, and the nation will never know.

In such a situation, it’s like the infamous streets in every town.  The seller must close the deal by pushing the wares upfront to hook you. TV News channel when everyone has the same story is such a situation.

Trust me; I will not be surprised that after the funeral some channels brainstormed to graduate to the next level of AR/VR when someone big calls it a day.  Otherwise, it is business as usual. It will be just business as usual.

Frankly, it is only the viewers who should/could control, swing and influence the content issue on news channels. The viewers have the power to force the channels to redefine their content strategy, guidelines and norms that it follows.

The big question is: is the Indian viewer willing to give up his/her new audio-visual version of Satya Kahaniya and Manohar Kahaniya masquerading as legitimate news channels? Most probably not.

The social media activists can wait for the next event.  The channels will set new records of indecency and encroach into the privacy of someone else.

Till then: keep watching your daily dose of ugly news.


Sanjeev Kotnala is a leading strategy consultant and trainer. The views here are his own



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