Voices Wednesday, June 24, 2015 - 05:30
  Since the India Today Group re-launched its English TV news offering Headlines Today as India Today TV on May 23, an expensive and high-decibel distribution battle has been fought between the channel and Times Now. Under pressure to show some growth in return for all the money which was sunk in for the re-branding, India Today was apparently manipulating ratings by feeding the channels twice onto TV screens through distribution networks. Not wanting to back off from the fight, Times Now too apparently followed the same strategy. While the weapons used were different, the skirmishes were only an extension of what we have been seeing on TV screens for a while now. NDTV has been targeting Times Now on the standard of the latter’s ‘sensationalist’ journalism for months now. India Today too ran campaigns taking on the market leader Times Now by implying that it was a news-circus. Times Now has been responding in kind, using every opportunity to run promos implying that other channels are cronies of the scam-ridden and those in power. It would not be wrong to say that at the very centre of the #LalitGate saga is the ego-driven TRP one-upmanship game between the channels and its talking-heads. Read about it here. The most recent onslaught of barefaced self-promotion by news channels has been the dishing out of cherry-picked TRP data claiming to be number one.  Vanita Kohli-Khandekar points out in her column today how TV channels’ data fetish is a zero-sum game and will eventually lead nowhere. And as several voices in her other report on the same issue yesterday say, this is a short-term war nothing to gain and perhaps a lot to lose. Two things emerge from this. One, content is king. Genuine innovation is imperative, and if channels want to show to the viewers that they are better, then they have to be better. It is not enough to change logos and give your channel a different look, like India Today has. Are our TV production teams capable of changing content? Do our editors have the gall to change the way news is done? Can our reporters look at stories in an in-depth manner and move beyond headline? Today, even as all channels attack Times Now for sensationalism, they indulge in the same old style of debating, reporting, outraging and production which they have been doing for years. The controversies are the same, so is the style of reportage. Faces come and go, but loud news-breaks and “at this point of time” kind of clichéd on-air dialogues remain. As LV Krishnan, CEO of TAM Media Research points out to Kohli-Khandekar, only compelling programming can shift viewers to a channel, not the loud messaging. Indian TV media is vibrant, active and bold. But on counts of innovation of content, story-telling techniques and production, skills have been used to make TV look better, and just that. We have not actually made it better. It has always been a battle of perception, and now perception is all that matters. From editors down to reporters, the perception of ‘first’ or ‘better’ matters, not who is actually the best. Indian TV media has also not addressed the credibility crisis that it is undergoing. While NDTV’s channel runs promos on how it is India’s most credible brand, their response to the Radia-tape allegations and the SEBI order for IT violations have been muted or defensive. That has only added to the lack of credibility of the news channel. Secondly, viewers have to step in. The Indian TV sector today offers what is among the best available forms of free-market there is in India. We all know the sanctimony we get on TV screens is a load of you-know-what, but we still watch and participate in it. The power to change those channels is in right here in our hands. Use the remote and switch the channel off.   Social media is an important tool, although it is not put to best use. We only oppose channels when they go against our political agenda. Even our criticism of journalism is couched in our political biases. If we take a consistent stand against a particular channel’s way of reportage, they do take note. It was seen in how the Times Now newsroom was jolted by the #ShameOnTimesNow campaign against its #ShamedInSydney news stories over India cricket team’s defeat. English TV news survives not because of its reach, but its control over the news-psyche of the nation. There is a trickle-down effect. When English channels report on a story, social media picks it up, newspaper editors’ priorities change and vernacular news channels follow the cue. For news channels to offer us better content, we have to punish them by questioning their credibility, and making advertisers know that we don’t. Beyond a point, loss of credibility will show in ad rates and on balance sheets, and that’s when TV channels will realise that they need to do better.