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The Half-Naked Guy In Red Shorts And Other Things That Make No Sense On Primetime News

28/09/2016 12:23 PM IST | Updated 02/10/2016 9:22 AM IST
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I made the mistake of watching primetime television last week. I figured the anchors would be done discussing what India must do after the Uri attack and moved on to other issues such as Amitabh Bachchan's opinions on everything, Deepika's wardrobe for Cannes and the like.

I was wrong.

The smartly dressed anchor of a news channel that had recently claimed to have "crushed" the viewership stats of another news channel, was gesticulating wildly. The reason for his histrionics was not a bee attack in the studio but the Uri attack in Kashmir. He raised his eyebrows, pointed in my direction and said "...this is why you should be concerned... take a look!"

To criticize is to "slam", to ask is to "demand", to lose is to be "routed", and to win is to "crush." The attacks are unabashedly personal.

The banners on the side of the screen displayed in large, red fonts the fee each Pakistani artist charged for a performance in India. The figures were quite high.

I didn't understand. I thought there was a mix-up at the studio (like the time when a channel once played images of Wayne Rooney celebrating a goal when the newsreader was talking about an ongoing UN meeting).

I was wrong again. No blooper moment.

The anchor waved at the numbers and concluded his monologue, saying, "Why are we putting up with this? The Uri attack raises serious questions... Joining me tonight is Mehr Tarar from Pakistan and [a few other usual suspects from India]..."

He turned to the lady from Pakistan and said "You know all that is happening. There is enough proof....How can I now call you my friend?"

I burst out laughing. In an instant, the anchor who had once smirked at and ridiculed Sunny Leone for basically minding her own business had turned into a petulant child whose ice-cream scoop had fallen off the cone. No one else on the panel found it funny. They nodded in agreement and pointed fingers (literally too). What continued for the next 15 minutes was a blame game at high volume.

I was disgusted. Not because of the complete lack of poise and etiquette, but because we have reached a point where an anchor can make a ludicrous connection between two unrelated concepts without any fear of being called out. Because he assumes that viewers are ignorant, unimaginative cattle who will consume anything.

I switched to another channel. It wasn't very different.

It was an anchor who had earlier badgered Sania Mirza about when she planned to "settle down" and consider motherhood. That evening, he was pondering over a question that he thought deserved an hour's deliberation—"Is the MNS right in asking for a ban on Pakistani artists?" After a long discussion that sounded more like the celebrations of Manchester United fans at Old Trafford, he concluded that the MNS's demands weren't reasonable.

Audiences with sparse attention spans want to be entertained, not informed, and the editors are more than happy to turn their programmes into giant orgies...

Why even choose this topic? Of course the MNS's demands make no sense. Controversy is the fuel that keeps their agenda going. The Shiv Sena, the Hindu Sena and the MNS have been poking their noses into everything from Valentine's Day to films they don't like. Hell, the Hindu Sena even held a havan for Donald Trump because they believe he is humanity's saviour. Why does a news channel give their bigoted views legitimacy by discussing them? What good is an editor when he doesn't have the capacity to decide what's newsworthy and what's trash?

Speaking of newsworthy content, one lazy evening, several weeks ago, I found Al Jazeera screening a documentary on the civil unrest in the Congo, the BBC asking immigrants in America their thoughts on the upcoming elections, Russia Today reporting from Rio. Indian news channels, meanwhile, had just one story playing out. One video rather.

It was of a portly, bare-chested man in red shorts in bed with a woman whose face was blurred out. He leans towards her and as their faces come closer, the shot is cut and the grainy video plays again. The headlines scream "AAP Minister In Sex Scandal", "Women And Child Development Minister Caught On Sex Tape", "Kejri Minister In Sex Video", "Sex Scandal Hits AAP."

The video playing over and over again for the next few days wasn't pretty. Neither were the words the editors and panellists used. The only reason I endured the platitudinous tirades from women's rights activists, lawyers and politicians was that I was waiting for someone to ask, "What's wrong with two consenting adults having sex?" or "Isn't this an invasion of privacy?" or "Who released this video?" or importantly, "Why are we discussing this?" Nobody did.

Common sense has bowed out of television journalism and we are all to blame.

These incidents aren't aberrations. Sensationalism is the order of the day in broadcast journalism. To criticize is to "slam", to ask is to "demand", to lose is to be "routed", and to win is to "crush." The attacks are unabashedly personal. The gloves are off and anything goes.

Audiences with sparse attention spans want to be entertained, not informed, and the editors are more than happy to turn their programmes into giant orgies instead of standing fast to journalistic ethics (a term that is becoming an oxymoron).

The stage is set, headlines scream, visuals titillate and journalists roar for the lion's share of the ratings.

Common sense has bowed out of television journalism and we are all to blame.

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