There is now a gaping hole in my evenings. No, not because I have turned into an anti-social recluse – I have, in fact, always answered to that description.
It’s because I have finally sworn off my addiction to TV news.
There was a time when I would channel surf through the evening and late into the night, going from one news channel to the other. I watched the headlines as I ate my dinner, I tuned in for a news programme as I did my 30 minutes on the cross-trainer, hell, I even kept the news on mute as I worked on my book.
That is no longer the case. These days I have eschewed the pleasures (using the word very loosely indeed) of TV news, choosing to spend my evenings with Netflix or a good DVD box-set. And when I get tired of fiction and need a news fix, I steer clear of the Indian channels, and dip into CNN International, the BBC or Al Jazeera instead.
Why, you ask?
Seriously? You really need to ask? Have you not been watching these channels yourselves? Well, okay, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and tell you why. So, here, in no particular order of importance, are some of the many reasons I hate prime time TV news:
First off, there is the fact that it is rarely, if ever, news. You hardly ever hear about all the newsworthy things that happened in the course of the day across the country (as you would if you read the next day’s newspapers). Instead, our news channels (yes, yes, I know there are honourable exceptions, but you could count them on one finger) land on the most controversial story of the day – which is guaranteed to attract the largest number of eyeballs – put together a short video package, and then organise a ‘debate’ around the issue. There’s the evening sorted with minimal effort and maximum ease.
The ‘debates’ themselves can best be summed up by paraphrasing William Shakespeare: they are all ‘sound and fury signifying high TRP ratings’, shedding next to no light on the subject being debated. All you hear is cross-talk, people shouting over one another, the anchor shouting even louder to shut them up, and more cross-talk. You can spend a good half-hour watching (assuming you are a glutton for punishment) and not learn a single thing about the issue in question.
When it comes to inviting guests on their panels, news channels tend to ‘round up the usual suspects’. So, on any given day, most channels will be discussing the same story with the same people, often at the same time (thanks to that miracle called ‘SIMSAT’ – go on, Google it), with all of them saying the same things over and over again. If there is a better recipe for ennui, I haven’t yet gotten hold of it.
Most news channels land on the most controversial story of the day, put together a short video package, and then organise a debate around the issue .
The anchor is rarely ever a neutral party, who elicits the views of his panelists without revealing his own biases. On the contrary, his introduction makes it all too clear which side he is on. Even that would be acceptable (you know all the stuff they say about ‘truthful not neutral’) if only he would let those who disagreed with him finish a sentence – never mind an actual argument – without interrupting to tell them how they are ‘wrong, wrong, wrong’ (and anti-national, for good measure).
Staying with news anchors, why is it that so few of them can ask pithy questions? Instead, most of them preface their queries with long, rambling statements that go on and on without really driving the discussion any further. What’s worse is that after taking minutes of airtime, they instruct their guests to give quick answers because “I have only 60 seconds left”. Well, in that case, you shouldn’t have taken 120 seconds to ask the damn question.
Nobody who appears on news TV – not the anchors, not the reporters, not the guests – seems to be familiar with the workings of a microphone. Or perhaps they are unaware that there is one placed directly in front of them. Why else would they ignore its presence and bellow away, as if they need to shout out loud to be heard across the country?
There is nothing that annoys me more than to see a phalanx of former Pakistani Generals and ISI hands sitting in on our TV shows, tearing into India on a satellite link. Why do we pay these old codgers to come on our news programmes so that they can insult our country, our soldiers, and our intelligence? And strangely enough, it is the ‘nationalistic’ channels that do this most often. I must say, this is a rather inventive way of showing their patriotism. (Or perhaps, more to the point, bumping up their ratings.)
But most troubling of all is the propensity of TV news to give fringe voices the oxygen of prime-time publicity. It doesn’t matter how minor an Islamist cleric you are, or how much of a Hindutva non-entity. As long as you make an outrageous enough statement, you will be guaranteed your 15 minutes of fame on our news channels, as anchors hyperventilate about how you are completely beyond the pale (but, clearly, fit and proper to inhabit their TV studios), quite ignoring the fact that they are only helping to mainstream the fringe.
Given all this, are you really surprised I have given up on Indian TV news? Frankly, I am amazed that more of us haven’t.
From HT Brunch, May 14, 2017
Follow us on twitter.com/HTBrunch
Connect with us on facebook.com/hindustantimesbrunch