The media mob

  • Seema Goswami, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jan 25, 2015 18:46 IST

Hard as it is for me to admit, of late news television in India has begun to remind me of nothing more than a lynch mob. One target – or three, on a busy day – is identified by TV news, and then the entire evening is devoted to bashing him or her to a pulp.

There is not even a passing nod to fairness or impartiality, or an attempt to get both sides of the story. Don’t be so silly; that is too old-fashioned for words. These days, the narrative is set in the morning news meeting and the only facts that are of relevance are the ones that fit it.

Other than that, it’s just a gladiatorial contest between several talking heads (fitted into tiny windows on the screen) while the anchor encourages them to be even more outrageous and out-shout the others.

Except, of course, for those who have the temerity to oppose his worldview on that particular evening. They can barely get out a few disjointed words amidst loud interruptions before being told by the anchor that they are speaking nonsense and ought to be ashamed of themselves.
And where one channel leads, the others follow.

So, every evening we are treated to the sorry sight of one or another ‘celebrity’ being pummelled across channels, with many of the same suspects doing duty as guest speakers on the ‘debates’. That is, if a ‘debate’ means shouting at one another but refusing to hear what the other has to say. Not that it matters what anyone says or hears. Even before the ‘debate’ begins, we know which side will win. Yes, it’s the one the anchor is on.

The big bully: Even before the ‘debate’ begins, we know which side will win: the one the anchor is on.

But while I have begun to treat prime-time news television (or Super Prime Time, or Mega Prime Time or Meta Prime Time, or whatever they are calling it this week) as a comedy show, good for a few laughs, there are times when my exasperation wins out over amusement. And that’s when I want to tell those star anchors a few home truths. So, here, in no particular order of importance, are some of them.

* An anchor is supposed to ask questions, not make long speeches about how the country has gone to the dogs and how only his/her channel seems to care. And these questions should be framed to elicit a reply, rather than just insult the person being questioned.

* The point of asking a question is to get a reply. And to get a reply, you have to allow the other party to speak. And when I say ‘speak’, I mean ‘speak entire sentences without being interrupted and shouted at’. And then – I know this is hard, but stay with me – you have to actually listen to the answer.

* You may not like, or agree with, the reply a person is giving. That’s fine. But that doesn’t mean that he/she has ‘dodged the question’ or ‘refused to reply’. A journalist decides the questions he asks. He cannot decide what the answers should be.

* If every guest on your show starts his comments with, "Please, can you give me one minute…" that is a fair indication that you have got this entire panel discussion thingy quite wrong. In case you’re reading this, it means that everyone gets the same amount of time to make their points (and the anchor does, on no account, get double the time to hector them).

* If the media can (and does) attack everyone every day, then it is only to be expected that the media will be attacked in return. And that’s how it should be. Everybody has the right to criticise the media and to question its methods. That is the right of every citizen in a democracy. That does not mean that ‘the media is under attack’. That means we live in a functional democracy (and thank God for that).

* If news television channels want to introduce the culture of ‘door-stepping’ (popularised by the British tabloids) in India, they are welcome to do so. But simply parking yourself on the doorstep of someone in the news does not mean you are entitled to answers.

Even public figures are perfectly within their rights to refuse to respond to questions. Just as the media have the right to conduct impromptu ‘interviews’, those ‘interviewed’ have the right to decline the pleasure. This does not make them venal, evil, corrupt, arrogant or even guilty. It makes them people who do not want to be ‘door-stepped’.

* If any news channel sells itself as the voice of the people and says that it speaks on behalf of the entire country, then the nation would also like to know on what basis it makes these tall claims. Did it win some sort of secret poll? And if it did, can we please ask for a recount?

* If you’re going to proclaim over and over again that this is ‘your news channel’ then I would like to get a slice of the profits at the end of each financial year. And so, I assume, would every other viewer who is making you the ‘number one channel’ every week.

So, how exactly do we go about this? Yes, the nation does, indeed, want to know.

From HT Brunch, January 25, 2015
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