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No brakes please, this is breaking news

columns Updated: Aug 25, 2010 18:29 IST
Amitava Sanyal
Amitava Sanyal
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Oh, such a joy to be standing on the shore of a sea of unblinking believers. Belief, I believe, can push us into territories where reason fears to tread. Faith can move mountains, part seas, cure incurable ailments. It can also make India TV the undisputed leader in a market as cut-throat as television news.

The channel that was born just before the last general elections has shot past all comers much before the nation gets to know the name of the next prime minister. While scratching your chin over this phenomenon, you must consider that unlike its competitors India TV doesn’t boast of celebrity anchors (except their thin-lipped and thinner-haired chairman) or smart graphics (what graphics?).

Now consider the impact — and not just on the television rating points. After the channel put out the ‘news’ early last September that the world would end a few days later when the Large Hadron Collider was to be switched on, all the neighbours of a colleague’s maid had come out on the streets of their basti at the declared hour to “face” their maker.

To some, it may be entertainment as news; to many others, it’s news as entertainment. They lace non-fiction (hard news) with fictional tropes as much as they make fiction (gaseous garbage) into news. That's the winning formula.

You may well ask why am I still on the shore of this sea. That’s because I do not have satellite TV at home. Awright, now that you know my little secret, may we please watch some classic India TV online?
amitava.sanyal@hindustantimes.com

The other side of 26/11
When everyone else was looping the same video over and over while the siege of 26/11 was playing out, India TV stood apart. The channel suffered when its ‘exclusive’ call from a supposed terrorist named Babar turned out to be a hoax. But it sprung back the next day with this video saying that the pigeons outside the Taj Hotel in Mumbai were feeling lonely because no one was looking after them. Talk about timing!

How to get a flatscreen
This is citizen journalism at its logical extreme. Under its popular programme ‘Alert Viewer’, India TV gets clips ranging from supercrowded trains to praying under a Mahua tree (don’t ask why), and the winning contributor gets a TV. This slip, that shows a dog riding pillion on a bike, was last May’s winner. More than the visual, it’s the imagery conjured up by the voice-over that stuns. So much made with so little.

Voyeuring to the end
This is not the first time death has been shown on live TV. When respected Keralite Leftist M.N. Vijayan had a heart attack at a press conference in October 2007, many TV channels aired the video. It was indeed a stunning event. But in characteristic fashion, India TV put the clip of the old man slipping away from the mikes on an endless loop. They repeated the treatment when a bomb in Sri Lanka went off on camera.

Fact and fiction
It’s not just reporting news in a sensational fashion that’s India TV’s forte (using fictional tropes in non-fiction). It’s equally about making up ‘news’ where none exists (pure fiction). Hence we have seen a UFO sucking up a cow from the ground, or a stairway to heaven (literally, in the Himalayas) where mobile phones work. Watch this ‘talking, blinking’ picture of the Sai Baba that kept audiences rapt for an evening.