Ranjona Banerji: Nightly Shriek Shows Subsume ‘News’ Part of TV

18 Sep,2020

By Ranjona Banerji

 

An article by Priya Ramani in Bloomberg Quint, titled “Your Guide to Loving Indian Media again” upset a number of journalists. Not because they disagreed with the various new media outlets she listed, outlets set up by journalists and which are committed to journalism. But because she quoted noted TV anchor Barkha Dutt who, as she covered, without a break, India’s migrant crisis for 120 days during our ill-conceived Covid19 lockdown, said that she did not see a single TV journalist on the road until Day 50.

https://www.bloombergquint.com/opinion/indian-media-your-guide-to-loving-news-journalism-again-by-priya-ramani

This angered several TV reporters and others, who felt that Dutt was being unfair, that several of them had been on the road with the migrants and that the hierarchy of television meant that only when “anchors” did something was it considered worthy.

And therein lies the whole problem of television “news” in India. The “news” part of TV has been subsumed by the nightly shriek shows. The amount of time and money spent on newsgathering by the media in general, but television in particular, has reduced drastically. TV anchors have become celebrities and personalities rather than just journalists. They are vilified or idolised and both are to the detriment of the media on the whole.

All through prime time, TV channels have done away with news and replaced news with discussion. Well, I say “discussion” but what I mean is carefully manufactured shouting matches, pitting one “side” against the other. With the usually biased anchor adding to the pitch and the melodrama. There is no “news” in this component of TV at all.

The way these channels promote their shows provides all the clues: Anchors in serious or menacing poses, staring down at the camera, accompanied by some idiotic text of whatever nutcase show they are about to present next. Triggering words like “Fire, Burning, Right, Nation, Stand” are used so the audience know they are in for a right royal dingdong.

None of these shows will be an investigative report minus these bogus discussions. One does not expect one-hour prime time shows with no star anchor presence will be about: Our reporter spent 50 days on the road with migrants, or Our report on joblessness in India. And one does not get such shows either.

It is hardly surprising then that people are unaware that TV reporters do actual work, since most people do not watch TV “news” all day. And there is no journalism on display in the evenings when people do watch. As we have seen with this whole Sushant Singh Rajput-Kangana Ranaut-Bollywood-drugs-mafia-murder-justice dramatics, the less journalism on display, the more people will watch.

The problem lies within television itself. In all the years I worked in a print newsroom, and especially when I worked on edit pages, all I heard from marketing departments is that opinion did not sell, only 2 per cent of the readership was interested in edits and on and on and on ad nauseum. On television, it appears that no one is interested in actual news and everyone only wants hate, propaganda and loud decibels.

The other offshoot is that viewers, even educated, aware viewers, make heroes and monsters out of these primetime anchors. The essence of being a journalist is decidedly not being a hero or an idol or an object of worship. This need – is it mainly Indian? – however to deify a person on television has done untold damage to the practice of journalism. And TV reporters who work as journalists and TV reporters who long for fame and infamy both pay the price.

**

The case of Sudarshan News and its hate-spreading propaganda continues in court. A number of publications have spoken out in favour of Sudarshan News, citing “freedom of expression”. But is hate speech and propaganda the same as journalistic freedom of expression? I think The Print, Indian Express have got it terribly wrong in their support of Sudarshan News.

This article explains why, in cogent, well-researched terms, citing examples from Nazi Germany propaganda to Rwanda:

https://thewire.in/media/from-sturmer-to-sudarshan-indian-media-should-realise-incitement-of-hatred-is-a-crime

Hate speech is not freedom of expression. It’s not hard to understand, surely?

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

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