Ranjona Banerji: An award for people who can watch Indian TV News?

11 Feb,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

There should be an award for people who can watch Indian television news. No, seriously. It won’t go to me. Less than 10 minutes and I had a headache, earache and eyeache. So much shouting, so much cross-shouting, so much confusion on screen, so much faff masquerading as insight. How do people watch this, day after day, night after night?

It was only because it was Results Day, for the Delhi Assembly elections that I was there in the first place. Let’s watch I said to myself. Let’s get an idea of the mood of the nation as the results unfold. Like, what was I thinking!

First of all, the results were all different. At 8.45 in the am, NDTV had AAP 52, BJP 16, Times Now had AAP 54, BJP 15, India Today TV had AAP 56, BJP 14, CNNNews18 had AAP 55 and so on. Then on NDTV Dr Prannoy Roy informed us these were postal ballots anyway, so they meant whatever they meant. They may be trends, they may not be trends. BJP and RSS experts, “ideologues”, “journalists” were in the majority on every “news” channel. Outshouting everybody. Haranguing other panellists. Some news anchors were auditioning for jatra parties. Others were hopping about excitedly. It’s like being locked into a room with 300 screaming Class 1 children at breaktime.

I did what I always do. Went to the Election Commission Results website. None of the figures matched the TV figures. The trends at 9.30 on the EC website showed that only 42 seats were being counted. How on earth the TVwallahs got 70 seats in the bag at 8.45 am I have never understood.

Now most channels seem to have got in line with the EC website. Which as I write this, the EC website shows all 70 seats being counted and AAP with a clear majority over the BJP. I do not have the courage to go back to the TV screens and watch the news soap opera.

The question remains though: how do they do it? Why have they not improved over the years? When live coverage of counting began, it was a very exciting experience, even for seasoned journalists. Very different from sitting in a room in Mantralaya during manual counting, and making calls on landlines to update your newsrooms. Once TV news was privatised, you longed to be in the studio with live charts and figures and information coming in. It’s what made being a journalist worth living for.

Over the years, the format has remained more or less the same but all changes have been for the worse. A few years ago, people laughed at CNN for making holographic transmissions of their star anchors. It may have looked ridiculous and thus failed but at least it was an attempt to keep up with technology. What we have now is a bad circus where all the performers have quit and untrained support staff continue with the show.

And the shouting. Heavens, guys, just tone it down. I had the volume on the lowest possible setting and it still felt like my eardrums were bursting.

At the end, the results themselves. Since the BJP did not get what it wanted and the Congress so far got nothing at all, how much will an AAP victory get Modi’s media to switch allegiances? And is the media prepared for the fallout on the nation, in case the ruling party is enraged?

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia. Her views here are personal

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