Opinion | Blame TV for our perception of netas
The problem begins with our television talk shows which encourage politicians to quarrel. They seek to portray the tamasha of politics, its theatre and spectacle, rather than its content and substance.Updated: Apr 28, 2019 16:03 IST
“Poor you! I simply don’t know how you stand it.” It was an odd way to start a conversation and it took me aback. We were guests at a party but we had never met before. She was puffing on a long cigarette. I had a drink in my hands. “Stand what?”
“The politicians you meet and keep interviewing. They seem such ghastly people. They come across as selfish, quarrelsome and full of themselves.”
Whilst a few politicians may be like that, the vast majority are not. However, I do realise that television is partly responsible for conveying this false impression. Most of you who don’t know politicians judge by the way you see them. But the presentation is neither wholly accurate nor truly fair.
The problem begins with our television talk shows which encourage politicians to quarrel. It’s not that left to themselves they would be sedate and calm, reasonable and reflective, but that we’ve convinced them and probably entrapped them into believing that the fight is more important than the argument. The fault lies in the way such shows are conceived. They seek to portray the tamasha of politics, its theatre and spectacle, rather than its content and substance. They generate heat but they don’t shed light.
Unfortunately, most politicians willingly play along. Once the cameras roll, they slip into a role and perform to a preconceived script. The result is quarrelsome shouting matches which lead nowhere and are usually an end in themselves.
This is tragic for at least two reasons. First, it demonises politicians. In fact, it panders to the already widespread opinion that they are a base tribe. People readily accept what they see because it bolsters their already biased view. More importantly, it wastes politicians. The object of a television talk show is to inform and to learn. This can be done in many ways. By explaining issues, by discussing differing views, by seeking answers, by carefully analysing. But each of these requires that we listen, and to listen, we have to care about what we hear.
That’s where our problems start. Channel heads believe audiences don’t care about the discussion. They claim most subjects bore them. Worse, they don’t think audiences can be made to listen. In their opinion, serious conversation is a switch off. Rather than risk that, they blend it with drama. Create a storm in the studio and the thunder and lightning will hold the audience. It doesn’t matter that the atmospherics are simply a waste of time. Or that politicians are used as objects to laugh at rather than opportunities to learn.
Fortunately, the solution is simple. It would follow automatically if we change our attitude to news and current affairs. So far we judge by their ratings. We assume they are products for a mass market. But they’re not, nor should they be. News, and more so current affairs, are only for those who want to know and, dare I say it, care to. They are not vehicles for delivering eyeballs to advertisers. Yet when they are treated as such it becomes inevitable they will be designed primarily to capture attention. And so politicians are used to lure audiences with their cacophony.
However, if programmes are designed to inform and not entertain, our perception of politicians will quickly change. They’ll play to a different script and our image of them will significantly improve. Of course, audience ratings will fall but the product will vastly improve.
The views expressed are personal
First Published: Apr 28, 2019 16:03 IST