Breaking and crumbling

There are serious faults with TV journalism in India. TV news channels cover a lot of things, provide a lot of views and analyse developments, but if somebody wants an enumeration of the major news with some elaboration on them, it is very difficult to find a news channel dishing it out. Good old news bulletins have become emaciated and marginalised in the race to do things differently, to dish out something that holds viewers, to provide something noteworthy or spectacular. News has become a commodity that needs to be sold and channels fervently try to fashion packages of news. Perhaps channels have decided to ignore the fact that news has its own appeal just as news. News will get its followers regardless of what it is. Channels seem to think that if news is a given thing and all channels have by and large the same news, a channel needs to uniquely dress up news, apply distinctive make-up to it, somehow make it singularly attractive to hook the maximum number of viewers.

Hence, the austere and sacrosanct aura around news is breached and news is sold like roadside hawkers aggressively selling T-shirts to passers-by. The news hawkers are simply the executive arm of the thought process behind news channels, which runs them like any other business. The result is that in the tumult to sell news to the maximum number of people and generate the maximum profits, news is no longer plain slices of development in the affairs of the world that should be presented as they are. This has resulted in an interesting development. By all reckoning, DD News should have been the least liked channel because it has none of the features the private news channels have adopted in their bid to become attractive. Private channels go over the board while trying to make news look like entertainment programmes. But DD has acquired an appeal for a large number of people because it is not in the race to grab viewers at the cost of compromising the nature of news as something bare and plain vanilla that should not be decked up but served as it is. For one,
does not have the distraction of too frequent and prolonged ad breaks. One can argue that the government funding that allows DD to operate without running after revenue through ads makes it a biased, government channel. Granted. DD is the official government channel.

But if DD coverage is not neutral and unbiased, which channel is neutral? They all have their business and political agendas, interests and masters. I am reminded of a sher, Haath to talwar par hai/Magar sahib-e-talwar kaun hai? (Your hand is on the sword but who is its real master? At whose behest do you wield the sword?) At least in the case of DD, viewers can have no illusions and take its offerings as the official version of things. With the other channels, viewers cannot be totally sure who is calling the shots. Media is not at all free perhaps anywhere in the world. In that case, it is better to know who is controlling it and not have any illusions about its freedom.

Many people have started liking DD News because DD serves news the way it should be served. So if the bias in the news is accounted for, at least viewers get to know the basic necessary details about various developments, the 5 Ws and an H (what, who, when, where, why and how), as they say in journalism, in news bulletins. There are all kinds of items available on the private news channels, but it is difficult to catch such news bulletins. The news round-ups of private channels are often too brief, truncated, haphazard and sketchy and too loud and dramatic, with the background thriller kind of music often drowning the excited words of the news reader.

Apart from the content of news, there is the issue of its presentation. I remember the good old days when DD was the only channel available. Different news readers then had their own individual style but they all read news in a sober manner, with an even voice, a blank face and a calm, seasoned, measured tone. News is always about something different from the norm, unusual, out of the ordinary, spectacular. The definition of news makes it such. The ordinary and commonplace is never news. And news will often evoke heightened or stretched out reactions in people as things that are not the norm do. The news provider in such a scenario has not only to be objective in his content but style of presentation too. He should have a neutral, detached demeanour that doesn’t show him taking sides and adding to the drama of the news. DD news readers still present news in this fashion. It is a refreshing break from the shrill, high-pitched, dramatic delivery of news by private channels.

It is very unlikely that private news channels will change their ways. DD News will emerge as a viable alternative in that case.

The author is a senior journalist and columnist
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