Shailesh Kapoor: Paparazzi: TV News’ New Normal?

25 Sep,2020

By Shailesh Kapoor


Television news continues to get more bizarre with each passing week. This week saw a new low, when television channels flaunted their paparazzi skills, trying to chase downs various film stars summoned by the NCB. At airports, at apartment complexes, at farmhouses… the paparazzi was omnipresent.


Now, that itself is not new. The culture of chasing stars for a byte or a picture has come in over the last decade. Pre-Covid, some online and print tabloids apparently had their photographers permanently stationed at the Mumbai airport terminals, to click stars who arrive in the city. But all this was done on the sly. There was a sense of moral trepidation to it. The said photographer or journalist won’t brag about this “job” of theirs.


But the visuals on TV over the last three days have been celebratory in nature. Channels have reporters chasing cars with such sincerity and sense of purpose in their voice that you will think they are on a mission to solve the nation’s economic problem out of their grave concern for it. Such “chases” are being branded as “exclusive”. Prime-time anchors are lauding the reporters who are stationed outside the airport for the last 24-48 hours, projecting their work as some kind of a benchmark in brave, ground-breaking journalism.


When the news of Princess Diana’s tragic death in a car crash in 1997 first broke, it was reported that her car was being chased by the paparazzi, and that could have effectively triggered the crash. Investigation later disproved that theory, but nevertheless, the idea that someone could get killed because they are being chased by someone sounded all wrong, more like a form of lynching.


But now, we have news channel gloating about their paparazzi skills. The mask has come off this summer, and entirely so. There’s no pretense left anymore about the lowbrow nature of television news. And we are not talking here about some weekend show or an entertainment magazine show. This is in the heart of the primetime, at 9pm.


Credibility issues with television news are well understood and even quantified. But it seems that news channels can’t seem to care less. Even as print media and select digital platforms maintain their sanity, TV news channels have embraced idiocy with arms open wider than Shah Rukh Khan.


And we may not have seen the worst of it yet. Covid has shown news channels that the expensive OB vans are replaceable by video conferencing apps in many scenarios. The cost of news gathering will go down substantially here on. While that would seem like a huge positive coming out of Covid, one suspects this change will be used to peddle more paparazzi news than that of substance.


So be prepared for more lows. Because one thing TV news channels have not lost is their ability to surprise you with how innovative they can get when it comes to beating their own cringe levels.



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