Politics on the Sleeve

22 Jul,2022




By Shailesh Kapoor


Shailesh KapoorThe Hindi news television genre is buzzing this week. One of the biggest anchors in the category, Sudhir Chaudhary, has changed channels. His new weekdays 9pm show, Black & White, premiered on Aaj Tak this week. Chaudhary has spent over a decade at Zee News, which included a controversial extortion case back in 2012, for which he and a colleague had to face legal action, including judicial custody.


I’m no fan of Chaudhary and his rabble-rousing style of anchoring, where Muslims are often the target. But over the last few years, Chaudhary has used this trademark style to become one of the most popular Hindi anchors in India, with a loyal fan following that’s only matched by a couple of other news anchors on television.


In today’s polarised media environment, marquee anchors tend to define the political stance of the channels they are on. The role of the anchor, has, thus widened from only getting audiences to a particular time slot when they are anchoring. Anchors are now driving the brand narrative of news channels across languages. And this brand narrative is decisively political.


That’s one of the reasons news that’s not political in nature hardly finds any presence on the primetime roster. And when it does, the story angle taken is primarily political. Most anchors feel under-leveraged if they do not use their political capital in their shows. They make it a point to wear their political disposition on their sleeves.


But they also understand that the audience can’t be fed political news all the time. As a result, we have seen the emergence of news topics that are ‘pseudo-relevant’, i.e., the audience is made to believe the news being dished out is of high importance in their lives, while actually, it may have almost no relevance at all.


One such sub-genre is ‘communal news’, where stories that are essentially ‘Hindus vs. Muslims’ in their construct are chosen, with an anchor position that’s invariably pre-decided. This trend started in 2014, and has since been on the rise. The Tablighi Jamaat coverage during the first Covid lockdown in 2020, and the Gyanvapi mosque controversy more recently, are evident examples.


But you do not need a story to ignite communal sentiments among the audience. You could just do a random story, passing it off as research. Sudhir Chaudhary’s ‘Jihaad ka diagram’ story in 2020 is a notorious example.


Not everyone watches television news anymore. But there is a strong correlation we observe in our work, between political awareness and consumption of TV news. To say it differently, those watching TV news are more likely to have defined political views, including whom they want to vote for in the next elections. In turn, they can shape the opinion of others (family and friends) around them who are often sitting on the fence till a week or two before an important election.


Thus, to say that not watching TV news is a solution to fixing things that plague the genre is just being naïve. Sadly though, no strong alternative narrative has emerged, and not much may change anytime soon.


But in hope, we live.


Shailesh Kapoor is Founder and CEO of Ormax Media. He writes on MxMIndia every Friday. His views here are personal.


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