Be More Newsy, Less Noisy

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Fed up with shouting anchors and screaming guests on prime time TV, here’s what the lay viewer expects from them in 2016 so that they redeem themselves and remain credible
By Ajith Pillai


It is rather unusual to draw up New Year resolutions for news anchors. But perhaps there is an urgent need for the ladies and gents who inhabit space on prime time TV to formulate a list of do’s and don’ts for the coming year. Such an exercise may be deemed necessary to ensure that they do not traverse the same clichéd path they treaded with monotonous regularity in 2015.

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It is time news channels in India stopped using their studios as shouting rings

Of course, one cannot guarantee that 2016 will not turn out to be yet another year of shouting anchors and screaming guests. But here are a few suggestions from a lay observer that may help TV discussions become more viewer-relevant and credible:

Take idiocy out of the Idiot Box: Hyping non-issues is one step worse than manufacturing news. In the latter case, the channel will at least be credited for being clever or imaginative and in serious competition with comedy shows which specialize in spoofs. But when non-issues are blown out of proportion and heatedly discussed as the news of the day, the viewer is left wondering what the hot air was all about? He may even be tempted to take a leaf out of Groucho Marx’s book. Remember what the comedian famously said about TV: “I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”

Indeed, there is nothing more frustrating than wasting your evening hearing a heated discussion on a statement made by an obscure politician or a former Pakistani diplomat or general. It not only tests your patience but also questions your intelligence when you notice it doesn’t figure in the next day’s newspapers or on any other channel. In fact, the realization dawns that it was not news by any yardstick.

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Indian TV anchors must watch BBC for its news presentation

Stop the noise pollution: Stop using the studio as a shouting ring where audio pugilists flex their vocal chords. Louder doesn’t mean better or more sensible. Viewers get tired of the same cast of politicians and journalists-turned-commentators with oft-stated positions shout the same things night after night. This formulaic approach almost appears staged like World Wrestling Entertainment bouts which are not legitimate contests but carefully choreographed matches.

So a typical Sambit Patra/Nalin Kohli versus Randeep Singh Surjewala/Tom Vaddakan face-off is neither inspiring nor dramatic as who wins depends on the editorial position taken by the particular TV channel. Don’t forget that these gladiators have to fight it out on other news channels as well and that too, on the very same topic. Their omnipresence makes it that much more omni-boring.

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Several TV channels passed off opinions as news in the Sheena Bora murder case

What’s worse, the referee (the anchor) often actively participates in the bouts favoring one warring side against the other. When that happens, some pugilists are denied their right to punch, making it a one-sided contest.

Following Fox doesn’t make a newshound: Being hyper nationalist and giving slanted news is the trademark of Fox News in the US. It has often been accused of biased reporting and for the unabashed support it extends to the Republican Party. Its anchors are known to pass off their opinions as news and dominate TV discussions to twist facts to suit a pre-determined editorial line. As a result, freedom of speech is never guaranteed on the channel.

Unfortunately, 2015 saw the emergence of several Fox clones in Indian news channels. Some of those afflicted by the virus were earlier known for their measured approach but they joined the rat (oops! Fox) race when issues like the Yakub Memon hanging or the Sheena Bora murder consumed them.

Perhaps anchors ought to watch more of BBC and seek inspiration from its moderate and democratic approach to news rather than display their Foxier side to viewers.

Reportage before discussion: A studio discussion can never substitute solid gro-und reporting. This maxim taught at journalism school was forgotten last year as hyped up TV debates took center-stage and reporters were reduced to bit players providing sound bytes to facilitate mindless discussion.

Murders were apparently solved, problems resolved, corruption exposed and differences ironed out in TV studios. It is another matter that we are aware that anchors are neither police detectives nor can they arbitrate on national concerns. More importantly, prime time discussions cannot substitute for parliamentary debates and TV is not the forum where major policy decisions are formulated or pronounced “exclusively”.

Let us hope that reportage gets the primacy that it richly deserves in the year ahead.

More News, Less Views in 2016: Let our prime time honchos drop anchor in the choppy sea of news rather than in the staid waters of views in in the coming year. And let them shop for new punching bags instead of testing their fists on those that have already been beaten black and blue. Surely we have had enough of Opposition bashing. The government should come in for sharper critical analysis since it is primarily running the country.
Here’s to a more newsy and less noisy 2016!