If you are not outraged at a certain turn of events, the news channels shame you into sullen silence for not having an opinion.

Voices Thursday, June 05, 2014 - 05:30
In the late 50s to early 60s, American TV audience were besotted with a TV show called The Twilight Zone. So what was it about? The show had stories that were a heady mix of suspense, science fiction and drama. The end to several episodes had a macabre or unexpected twist. While Indian television serials continue to faithfully recreate the Twilight Zone formula for success, Indian news channels have also now begun to use these formulas rather effectively. If you are not outraged at a certain turn of events, the news channels shame you into sullen silence for not having an opinion – for not taking a stand and more importantly, not taking the stand that they believe is what should be yours too. Newspapers still largely restrict doling out views or ‘perspective’ on news developments to their editorial or op-ed pages ( I add ‘largely’ because editors inspired by television are increasingly adding colour to their headlines). Television, these days has increased the task of editorial writers by taking reporting that one step further, pronouncing their verdict on news stories by the evening of their occurrence. So at prime time every day, the respective editors of news channels don the robes of the judge, assemble a jury of those with opinions rather coloured and proceed to drill and grill the newsmaker of the day ( in the absence of which, it could be the news topic of the day). On any given day, you can now wager on the news topic that will catch the eye of the editor – Political scandals, stories on our relations with our neighbouring countries – especially Pakistan and China (predominantly that affect national security), terror/terror alerts or scandals at large. So if on a day, Pakistan and China have generally behaved themselves, the politicians of the country are at home snoozing, instead of at the Parliament and no violence or tension is reported from any part of the country (North East is an exception to this. Even the life-crippling blockade that lasted for months between Manipur and Nagaland made it to a news wrap and then a headline) then the onus falls on the news team to pull out their trump card – manufacturing outrage. Outrage can be moulded, manufactured, tweaked and then, sometimes, if it fails to remain a popular sentiment totally dumped. Ever wondered what happened to those UP legislators that were denounced by the media, en masse over the shame, outrage, anger and disgust over their peccadilloes while the Muzzafarnagar riot survivors perished in refugee camps? Those very legislators who were accused and tainted are brought back into news studios to be panelists on other stories. Remember Lalit Modi, Jagmohan Dalmia, Mohammed Azharuddin? The fallen angels of Indian cricket, tried and judged by Indian news channels at various times are today, expert analysts or panelists on other stories. Lalit Modi’s case, in particular, is a great example of how the Indian media’s manufactured outrage died with passing time. He, who was maligned and tarnished over the way he presided over the IPL mess of corruption and financial misappropriation is now the first phone-in dialled by all news channels on any further muck emerging on Indian cricket. That he was among the patron saints of this new form of cricket and in the know of most deals and malpractices is conveniently forgotten or brushed aside. Do the television panelists in fact represent the voice of India? There is neither empirical evidence nor dipstick surveys to prove that this is what India believes. However, the next day, if the debate or discussion was lively and heated, excerpts of the discussion, expertly edited and interspersed can make the topic look like the most heatedly debated topic across India. Have you ever wondered where the data for summarily churning out a headline like “India outraged, Government Seeks Answers” comes from? Often from three sound bites sent by reporters sent out to seek specific answers to pointed questions. There have been several instances, where the opinions that went against the line taken by the news story never made it to the final cut. Allegedly’, ‘reportedly’ are the licenses to run any incriminating lines. Generalisations form the core of many an analysis. In the name of not complicating a news development, most news channels focus on a few aspects, completely ignoring the rest. The result? A rather prejudiced news story that reeks of views but is incomplete in terms of news gathering. As a nation, Indians tend to express their emotions with a lot of colour - extreme affection, extreme hatred or extreme disillusionment. However, once the phase passes, we are back to the mundane, often embracing the change as the normal course of life. Sometimes I wonder if television is merely showing us a slightly distorted mirror – magnifying our reactions and emotions and often the numbers. Perhaps, just perhaps, we deserve the channels that we encourage by tuning in. (Deepthy Menon is a burnt out TV journalist, with no political allegiance, left or right. Her current avatar as a mercenary writer and communication strategist is largely her way of funding her insatiable lust for travel and stories).