Flix Monday, May 04, 2015 - 05:30
Recently, NDTV unleashed a new campaign on its viewers. Through a slick promo, evidently parodying Times Now Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami’s loud and jingoistic anchoring, NDTV informs us that the biggest danger to Indian television is sensationalism, hysteria, wild accusations, polarisation and tabloid news. The promo claims that NDTV is India’s only non-tabloid news network and India’s most trusted brand. It ends by announcing “You don’t have to shout to be heard”. No marks for guessing who this is targeted at. At the RedInk Awards held recently in Mumbai, Prannoy Roy, the father of Indian English TV news, gave a similar, and much deserved tongue lashing to the Indian media. In a calm and composed speech laced with his trademark subtle humour, Roy listed out ‘some worrying trends’ in Indian media ‘that need course correction’. In his 2500-word speech, he spends a good 650 words on sensationalism and tabloidization. He dismisses the ‘trend’ of journalists’ proximity to politicians and bureaucrats, the ‘insider’ problem as he says, in just about 120 words. He uses 260 words to talk about lack of accountability and the "punishment-free  zone" we work in, and spends about 530 words on Internet anonymity and havoc it can cause.  The rest is narrating anecdotes and claiming how NDTV is the most trusted news brand in television news today. It is clear that NDTV and Roy are framing a narrative that sensationalism is the biggest danger to Indian journalism. Obviously, there is no scope to disagree with Roy on that. No one wants loud and sensational TV news But given what NDTV is, the campaign seems little to do with saving journalism, and more about the ongoing and eternal infighting within English news TV sector. He forgot to mention that the self-serving battles between news channels calling each other names do immense disservice to Indian journalism. And NDTV is a part of that problem because Roy chose to frame the issues facing Indian media to his own (and NDTV’s) convenience. Times Now has done it too. Their promos in the past, end even now, repeatedly remind viewers that they are fearless in asking questions of the powers-that-be, and that they are not "insiders". Roy barely touched upon this point in his speech, given NDTV’s own history in dealing with the perception of their journalists being considered too close to the influential. And NDTV is not alone in this. There are several journalists who have made similar arguments. Some journalists who raise their voice against "sensationalism" are the best examples of violating Roy’s “Heisenberg principal of journalism”, what he calls quid-pro-quo journalism. Reporters continue to hobnob with the elite of Delhi and make journalistic compromises. Sons and daughters of bureaucrats, politicians and powerbrokers are given more preference in jobs and access. It shows also in their choice of stories. Friendly politicians, businessmen, activists and bureaucrats are given more importance, promoted as model citizens. And it is not restricted to Delhi. In many ways, the string of non-elite journalists, many who found employment in Hindi news channels and English news which were launched later, were acting in response to what was the established code in English TV news when they were in the early stages of their career. They were tired of being denied access and looked down upon, and other colleagues being given more preference not because of their standard of journalism, but because of their proximity to the elite and family backgrounds. And in wanting to break that monopoly, many resorted to crass jingoism and sensationalism. This is in no way a defense for the screaming and shouting which goes on in the name of journalism today. But the framing of this narrative, and deciding what is "good journalism", cannot be hegemonic and self-serving. As much as sensationalism, hysteria and tabloidization of news is a problem, so is how a particular elitist section in Delhi’s news media chooses to source news and survive in the profession. Headache-inducing debating on primetime is a problem, but so is setting the editorial agenda in the cocktail circuit. Today, every news channel is guilty of at least one, if not all, of the "trends" Roy talks of. So let’s ask for better journalism, but let’s be more honest with ourselves. To shape a doomsday narrative to our convenience might be factually correct and not sensationalist, but it sure is one of the problems facing India media. Full Disclosure: The writer started his career with NDTV Hindu in Chennai and later worked as a reporter for Times Now. He is thankful to both organisations for shaping his early career.
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