The SMS was misleading. Zee TV sent out texts on Thursday telling viewers that terror mastermind Bilal Tauqeer would be exclusively on Zee News. I was intrigued. Had Tauqeer surfaced from hiding to sit in Subhash Chandra’s office and spill the beans? Had he sent a tape making demands only to Zee TV?
No such luck. What Zee News did have was footage of a Simi press conference of 2001 where Tauqeer sat next to Safdar Nagori, the head of Simi. As far as I could tell, Tauqeer did not engage in any terrorist activities on the footage. Frankly, I couldn’t even tell what he said. Nagori did most of the talking and the audio was terrible. I think it was the usual Simi stuff about the right of madrasas to flourish etc.
Even so, I said to myself, at least somebody at Zee News has had the enterprise to dig out old footage of this man and to compare it to the police identikit picture. It may not be the exclusive I expected but at least it’s something.
Except that everybody had the same something. The same footage turned up on Headlines Today, where the anchor kept assuring us that it was a Headlines Today exclusive and that nobody else had this footage (“Only on Headlines Today”).
Intrigued by this double-scoop, I turned to Star News to see how they were coping with the success of their rivals. It turned out that they had nothing to worry about. They had the footage as well. And yes, it was a Star News exclusive. The same shots of the same press conference looped endlessly while dramatic music played and anchors and correspondents blabbered meaninglessly.
I didn’t check out Aaj Tak, India TV, News 24 and all the others but perhaps they had the same exclusive.
Apart from the fact that Hindi news channels now all show us the same thing again and again, there were two things to notice about this ubiquitous scoop. The first was the lurid nature of the presentation. The ‘super’ (headline) read Tauqeer Ko Dekh Lo! as if it was akin to seeing Shah Rukh Khan in a towel or Salman Khan with his shirt on. Then, Star News followed up the footage with a reconstruction of Nagori’s narco test. This comprised a bearded man pretending to be Nagori lying on a hospital bed and answering questions put to him by a woman in a white coat pretending to be a doctor (“To aapke saath blasts mein aur kaun tha?”). Even Headlines Today had a reconstruction (in black and white) of a bearded man sitting and working at a computer (Tauqeer, sending emails to the media, I presume).
All this is far removed from news and moves dangerously into the field of entertainment — and bad entertainment at that. Most worrying is the trend towards filmy news consisting of re-enactments, reconstructions and loud music tracks. Once the domain of Bollywood channels, Hindi news channels today prefer filmi music to ambient sound.
The second thing to notice was how little journalism there was in the broadcasts. Once they had the tapes of the press conference, the channels acted as though nothing more needed to be done or said. The shock value of the visuals was supposed to be enough. The honourable exception was Star News where in the midst of all the blather, they produced a correspondent called Sangeeta Tiwari who had actually covered the press conference in question and was able to provide some context.
Far away from the tragic world of the Hindi news channels, Aniruddh Bahal made his debut as the Ali G of India on Channel V. The Ali G format consists of getting credulous celebrities to give interviews to a comedian who pretends to be a serious interviewer but actually spends his time sending them up.
Bahal managed to make Kailash Kher look completely bemused and I gather he has already recorded all thirty episodes for fear that people might catch on to the sting once the show is on the air. I thought it was completely hilarious. And so will you.