Reading between the lines
What people say on television and what they actually mean can be two very different things
The thing about news television in India is that what you see is rarely what you get. You have two channels claiming to have the same guest on ‘live’ at the same time even though that is a physical impossibility – unless the guy has cloned himself; in which case he should be ‘Breaking News’ and not part of a discussion programme (not that ‘Breaking News’ is ever either ‘breaking’ or even ‘news’). Questions asked at press conferences are passed off as one-on-ones. An ‘exclusive’ interview is one which every channel has managed to score. And so on.
My favourite bits, however, are those ‘debate’ programmes in which people rarely say what they mean or mean what they say. And that goes for both the anchors asking the questions and the guests who are answering them. And half the fun of TV-watching lies in reading between the lines; in deciphering the difference between what people say and what they, in fact, mean.
Let’s start with the anchors, because, well, we all know they are the real stars of the show, no matter how rich/powerful/famous the person they are questioning. So, let’s see how we can best de-code their catchphrases.
When they say: “People are asking why you haven’t resigned as yet?”
What they mean is: “I can’t risk offending you by asking you to resign on camera; it’s safer to quote some unnamed ‘people’ as having asked you to do so.”
When they say: “There is widespread outrage about (fill in details of the controversy du jour)”
What they mean is: “I read a few tweets about it on my Twitter timeline this afternoon and thought it had the makings of a story.”
When they say: “I’m sorry but you are not really answering my question.”
What they mean is: “I’m really annoyed because you are not giving me the answer I am looking for.”
When they say: “Okay, so let me summarise what you are saying…”
What they mean is: “Let me roughly paraphrase what you said so that I can subtly alter its meaning to fit in with my narrative this evening.”
When they say: “Now, please give me an honest answer.”
What they mean is: “You lying bastard, I know that you are lying to me. And that you will continue to lie, and lie, and lie, because that is all you are capable of.”
When they say: “Mr X has refused to appear on our channel because we don’t do soft interviews.”
What they mean is: “Our rival channel has managed to snap him up – but no harm in a little heckling to try and shame him into granting us an interview as well.”
When they say: “With the greatest respect, sir…”
What they mean is: “With the greatest disrespect, you scoundrel…”
When they say: “The nation wants to know…”
What they mean is: “I don’t have a clue what the nation wants; but I’m guessing it would want the same things I do.”
So much for the news anchors. But what about the politicians who come on every evening to be interrogated – or harangued, hectored, pilloried, bullied, abused; pick whichever word works for you – in line with what the anchor perceives as the public mood that day.
Are they any better? Not on your life. Let’s see if we can de-code some of their pet phrases.
When they say: “There cannot be trial by media. You cannot run a kangaroo court in TV studios in which you are accuser, judge, jury and executioner.”
What they mean is: “I have no answers to your questions. So I am going to act all outraged and pretend that you have no business asking them. Maybe somebody out there will buy it.”
When they say: “I’m sorry but your bias is showing. It is very clear which side you are on.”
What they mean is: “I am on very dodgy ground here. But on the grounds that offence is the best defense, I am going to attack you personally. Maybe that will scare you into backing off.”
When they say: “Please allow me two minutes to make my point – without interrupting.”
What they mean is: “Let me waffle on and eat up air time without ever answering your question. By the time my two minutes are up, you will move on to your next guest and I will be off the hook.”
When they say: “I’m sorry but I have to leave to appear on another channel.”
What they mean is: “This interview isn’t really going well for me. I may have better luck on another news show.”
When they say: “We all know that you will do anything for TRPs…”
What they mean is: “The only reason I am on this show, even though I make a fool of myself on it every evening, is because of your TRPs. But what’s the harm in a little point-scoring.”
And so it goes, on and on and on…