Have we entered a ‘Slow News’ era?

11 Oct,2019


By Shailesh Kapoor


It’s a bit contrarian, almost ironical, as an idea. But since the re-election of the Modi Government with a thumping majority earlier this year, India may have, arguably, entered its first ‘Slow News’ era since the media boom arrived in the early 90s. In an age where digital news provides an anytime, anyplace option to the traditional news media of television and print, this could seem almost impossible. But the signs are around us.

Over the last two decades, “news” has typically been dominated by politics. Elections have always been the tentpole news events, but there are other political, or at least quasi-political, happenings at national and state levels, which have often dominated headlines. For example, the last 3-4 years of the second UPA term was headlined by a series of scams, which kept the newsrooms busy for months at a stretch.

Then, there is the socio-political type of marquee news, such as the Anna Hazare movement in 2011. And events that can rattle the nation at large, such as the 26/11 terrorist attacks in 2008 or the Nirbhaya gangrape case in 2012. These news events had both relevance and consequences, leading to them being not just elaborate news affairs, but also those with very high recall much after they have passed their peak-news phase.

In contrast, if we look at the first few months, there’s very little of any of the above. The first term of the Modi Government had the big demonetisation tentpole, which stretched for almost a year. Then, there were the surgical strikes post-Uri, and they were received with avid interest by the news audience. Round 2 of that came earlier this year, just before the elections, in Balakot.

Additionally, there was the aggressive political headlining across the country, as BJP began to take control of power in one state after the other over the last few years. The campaigning has been aggressive, and political attacks and counterattacks have been commonplace since 2011-12 at least.

In its second phase, the Modi Government seems more assured and front-footed. While political jibes and attacks will continue, especially around State elections, there isn’t much of an Opposition, definitely not nationally, to create any major sense of conflict or thrill. There haven’t been any major scams since 2014, except the Opposition’s unsuccessful attempt to project the Rafale deal as one. And thankfully, there haven’t been any major terrorist attacks (not outside J&K at least) for some time now.

The striking-down of Article 370 provided good fodder for news, as did the Chandrayaan 2 landing on the moon. Both these events worked for their nationalistic sentiment, with the latter in particular evoking pop patriotism, about which I wrote here a few weeks ago. The recent Howdy Modi event is one more addition to this growing list of pop patriotism news events.

But the more technical news, such as the economic slowdown, or the continuing restrictions in Kashmir, does not make for interesting headlines. For one, these topics lack the packaging and the relevance new events like demonetisation may have. To add to that, a large part of the mainline media today is highly compliant to the government’s political, economic and social agenda anyway, leading to the growing marginalisation of the anti-establishment media.

If you see primetime news over the last few weeks, you would largely see what can be called tactical news stories. These are stories, like a random comment made by a politician being analysed ad nauseum, which wouldn’t have any significance even one week later.

Of course, the absence of scams and terrorist attacks leading to slow news weeks is a good thing. But the homogenisation of the rest of the news, in favour of a particular ideology (nationalistic, if not right wing) is arguably not.

Some state elections are coming up, and we can expect news consumption to rise. But that apart, we are in a slow news area, where variety and relevance of news will be increasingly at a premium.



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