In India, ‘bimbo reporters’ and anchors of both sexes are pretty much part of the anchoring and reporting landscape, though not everyone is in that bracket. This is because private television networks did not possess an army of trained personnel when they started as production houses two decades ago. Later, following the meltdown, the average anchoring age precipitously declined, largely to bring down salaries and due to the easy availability of cheap labour. The profile of the post-meltdown recruits was suggestive of what lay in store. Some came from public relations and marketing, others had been weather and sports bulletin announcers. Mostly, anchors start as junior workers looking after daily news bulletins and writing anchor reads, teasers and text for computer graphics on the output desk. Among the younger crop, only a handful boast proper experience in reporting. The sense that a news presenter is consulting colourful cardboard cut-outs is inescapable.
As the news unfolds, the real test of an anchor or reporter’s credibility is their instinct about the moment—to be at least approximately borne out by the trajectory of events. Nobody expects exact predictions, and neither should these be attempted. But this is easier said than done. For example, David Dimbleby’s marathon 11-hour broadcast of the Brexit referendum in 2016 won the BBC tonnes of accolades from discerning viewers. On this, novelist Robert Harris tweeted, ‘David Dimbleby playing a blinder. A reassuring statesmanlike figure of continuity & authority. Perhaps he could be Prime Minister?’ The fact that Dimbleby has anchored 10 general elections in Britain—the first in 1979, won by Margaret Thatcher, and the latest in June 2016, clinched by Theresa May— added heft and professionalism to his anchoring. In fact, he also helmed the coverage of an EU referendum back in 1975. In another instance, on 30 March 1981, when there was an attempt on the then President Ronald Reagan’s life, every network reported that his close aide James Brady had been killed. But the seasoned Frank Reynolds learned from his sources that this wasn’t true, which is how ABC News could turn the tide of misinformation.
The anchor’s role is of paramount importance in studio discussions. In the case of India, they are a facilitator similar to a cricket umpire. But unlike the umpire, the anchor is expected to be fair rather than objective. If an Akhlaq has been mob-lynched, the anchor has to take a position. There is no scope for both sides of the story. But more often than not, anchor–editors manufacture and process news in the studio through a variety of theatrical and oratorical devices to genuflect to the government of the day.
These self-serving studio shows require a predictable cast of panellists with extreme opinions, never mind their irrelevance to national politics. So, a fez and free-flowing beard denote a Muslim leader, while an ash-smeared forehead, loose saffron dhoti and shawl signify a Hindu chief. Both are unreal, stereotypical constructions. How do such leaders who populate studio discussions matter in the matrix of mainstream politics? Often, these news shows are burlesque, even farcical. Yet, they have caught the imagination of an entire population.
Goswami’s strong, high-pitched and faux self-righteous studio craft has spawned an army of prime-time copycats spanning various languages. An example is India Today TV borrowing the loud, aggressive anchoring star Anjana Om Kashyap from Aaj Tak for a prime-time programme in English and positioning her as a rival to Goswami. This happened when hoardings were coming up in Mumbai prior to the launch of Republic, with the promotional tagline ‘Arnab with You Soon’. India Today TV strategically placed its own ad featuring Kashyap next to it, proclaiming, ‘Anjana reached and waiting’.
On the other end of the ideological spectrum, the rise of Ravish Kumar as a news star indicates the blurring of lines between English and Hindi news. For the first time in the history of satellite television, large sections of mainstream English-language and even digital media have adopted a Hindi anchor who also reports on occasion. Kumar’s articles, blogs, Facebook posts and other pieces grab eyeballs and provoke feedback almost on an industrial scale. A Google search throws up at least three different stories by him for Hindustan Times around October 2017, including one on moblynchings.19 Wire and Scroll.in regularly run translations of his musings on various platforms. Kumar may well be one of the biggest stars in Indian news—right up there with Sardesai and Goswami.
Excerpted with permission from ‘THE INDIAN NEWSROOM'- Studios, Stars and the Unmaking of Reporters’ by Sandeep Bhushan, Published by Context (Westland).
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