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Journalist, Author, Columnist. My Twitter handle: @seemagoswami

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The media mob

Woe betide anyone it gets its claws into…

Hard as it 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 pummeled 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.

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 point 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 everyday, 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 criticize 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’ (popularized 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.


Jimmy_in_wonderland said...

You made very good point and wish to state the points very well suite for such behaviour is THE GREAT "Arnab Goswami" of Times Now!! So what are his characteristics,
- He thinks himself as having ALL The Knowledge of the cited topic
- Never allows enough time to reply
- Interrupt all the time
- Threat panelist as a dictator and panelist being slave
- Most topics are useless or make no sense
- Most topics are biased or to just make propaganda
- His own study on cited topic lacks credibility
- If reply to the Qs is not as per his will, he start another counter Q
- Force panelist to give answer in 'Yes/No' without any justification
- Most imp. Just Shouts on panelist

NDTV's Ravish Kumar is Most Desired and Prefered Anchor for any sort of Debate. He is very much Unbiased and Listen more Talk less!!

chandra55 said...

You have very well articulated what is in everybodys mind. Journalism is fast lasting its credebelity. Journalistic ethics are long forgotten. It is nothing but dancing to their Masters voice.

anil kumar said...

Couldn't agree with you more. Its neither news nor debate. More an opinion formed, sealed and dished out in the name of freedom of 'expression'! Sorry, but it isn't even funny. Sad. One learns nothing. Teaches & reinforces to our nation's 'demographic dividend' that one needs to simply shout any nonsense as long it is louder than all others to be Numero Uno! Jiski lathe us ki brains! Request please bring down the decibel levels and lets have 'real' debates with differing points of view.

Mohan said...

My teenaged son calls it Big Boss 2

BD said...

The job of an Anchor should to conduct debate in an unbiased manner and give equal opportunity to panelists to speak on the subject and people should take an independent view after hearing both sides. Unfortunately some anchors try to influence the viewers with his or views by siding with one view point and completely ignoring and at times humiliating the ones he or she doesn't agree with. This is a dangerous trend when anchors try to force their opinion on the viewers.

vinod said...

It is good to criticize anyone but by far this channel has balanced view irrespective to political parties compare to other news channel (like some channel started calling Modi as Modiji... even before taking oath). And some star anchor present news as Pakistan agenda.

Srinivasan said...

Indeed a very good piece. I do not speak on behalf of the nation' but I do agree that news on TV is now plain muck.The sight of half-baked and semi literate journalists thrusting mikes into the face of people is disgusting, And when their questions are not answered they resort to foul language. I wish someone gathers the courage to box the ears of these fools.

Peaceful Anarchist said...

Very easy to put all the blame on masala news anchors. But we as a society should hold a mirror and introspect too. In today's TRP driven TV of sensational breaking news is honest real news economically viable?
Arnab Goswami is who he is now because WE as a society made him so. He tried honest journalism and almost failed. Then he became an item number and we all started noticing him. WE are equally responsible. The very fact that he is successfull equally reflects on OUR mindset as society.

Unknown said...

A nice piece of writeup indeed. All the thoughts are incorporated explicitly that common man of the nation has started thinking strongly. After listening to these debates, one gets more confused rather than getting clear picture of the problem , let alone solution to abate the pain in issue. The so called highly foreign educated journalists makes the perceptions more messy. There are 'n' numbers of positive things taking place in country and never get air space. These too deserve little airing, if not much, So that positivity is spread and built up in the minds of the people and ultimately resulting in more good and positive things happening towards nation building. Airing negativity , on the other hand, emboldens the 'chalta hai ' and 'ye desh aise hi chal raha hai, chalta rahega aur kuch nahi badlega' type of perceptions and attitude. As well, Media has started playing vital and crucial rolls in govt decisions, sometimes good some times bad. What they air, how they air indeed affects the perception of the people and seldom leading the govt to take decisions that are not in the interest of the nation. So there should not be any space for biase or partisanship in media houses and attitude

maneesha said...

Some times I feel the old school news reading was better.we got more compact information in a half an hour show, covering all the happenings of the day,rather than the chaos that runs nowadays 24/7, specifically in the "primetime"

Unknown said...

I hope Arnab Goswami reads this. Yes, we all know that he won't change. At least he gets to know what people think about him. Ironically, you and Arnab have got same surname, but he is such a nonsense and you're a true journalist.

Ganesan said...

I almost completely agree with you, but the degree of 'mob mentality' varies across channels. My own 'mob mentality' ratings are:
Times Now: 10/10
NDTV: 6/10
CNN-IBN: Not sure
Headlines Today: 3/10
NewsX: 4/10