How The “TRP-Driven Circus” Of Indian News Channels Pushed Me To Boycott Them

Posted on January 14, 2016 in Media

By Subhrangshu Pratim Sarmah

breaking news
For representation only

Of late, I have almost stopped watching news channels. There was a time when for me the television was all about news, and news was the only element dearer to me on the so-called idiot box. But now following the principle of ‘Old is Gold’, the morning newspapers have resumed their roles like those loyal friends in college who would keep you privy to each and every information about the campus! If some information is needed at once, The Times of India or The Hindu apps come to the rescue. But what compelled me to take this stand?

It must be a general feeling of many amongst us that today television journalism is no longer the same as it used to be earlier. Except for the classic Doordarshan, everywhere it is not news- but all cacophony. Earlier we use to have news bulletins but slowly they are giving way to talk shows where every hour at night the anchor does all the talking and the poor panelists are made to listen – no matter whether their ears can bear the burden of the high decibel voice (read noise)! But to some extent, it is acceptable when we are sure that they are at least not compromising on their ethics and although tempted by revenue-driven goals are trying to bring a change at least through trending hashtags in Twitter.

The situation becomes totally unbearable when some others, without making any noise, stealthily and in a more subtle way try to inject partisan points of view into a viewer’s mind. Many anchors have turned out to be party stooges and often show their pro-party character, whereas being the 4th pillar of democracy they should have come out being pro-India. It is a pity that today we don’t actually get the news but rather some concocted views.

All these from the English media would not have stopped me from boycotting TV news had I not encountered another section of our media and mostly in our Hindi and regional languages that have shifted their focus from news to street entertainment. Before you are even able to read the headlines properly they will shock your senses with some horrific images of a haunted house, skeletons, and mysterious saints and of course, aliens! And as one of the leading journalists of India candidly confessed, it is not those discussions or news on global terrorism or gender equality that attract our rural, semi-urban or even urban audience but stories of snakes, goumatas and MMS scandals! Either you show a few ‘drunken girls’ from a local nightclub or a pseudo news item on a matinée idol’s love story and become the No.1, or soon shut down your channel with huge deficits.

But if you think this is the worst that could take place in the media – you are wrong. There is something more to the murkier side of our TV journalism. If you want to indulge in character assassination, then the channels are there for your aid. They will initiate campaigns and will find out several ‘startling’ about their personal life. If all these do not give them enough TRPs, the evening talk show aka media trial will feature some know-it-all panelists – having no connection with that person, who will offer their lofty suggestions which they expect the police or the government to follow. All this continues for a few days and suddenly that burning issue is nowhere in your television screens to be found. The reason: it completed its objective of vilifying the person’s character and fetched enough TRPs to remain ahead of other channels.

I feel astonished when the media without having even an iota of sympathy keeps on asking uncomfortable questions to a rape survivor’s family or the survivor herself. It was terrible when live media coverage of a 26/11 attack helped the terrorists to formulate plans.

But as soon as I turn to switch it off, my gaze shifts to media’s gallant role during the Jessica Lal case or Nirbhaya case. I feel proud at our media’s honesty in bringing scams after scams to light. I feel even happier when media reaches out to the flood victims of Jammu and Kashmir and helps them in connecting with their lost families. When stings remove the masks of our political bosses, media’s role is lauded beyond any doubt. So sometimes a few of these silver linings debar me from switching off the TV.

Media can and in fact must bring a change. But that lust for change should not be driven entirely by TRP motives. A famous saying rightly states that like harlots, the editors enjoy great power without much responsibility but it is also undeniable that there should not be any power without responsibility. The viewers are not fools. It may be possible to make an impact in the manner one views a story or news but ultimately it is his own insight which will help him to form an opinion. The channels by no means should bulldoze a particular point of view as the only valid one. The TRP driven circus has compelled many like us to boycott channels, but will it bring any change?

It is sad that today in India we don’t have a Christine Amanpour but the worst is that we don’t even have plenty of audience who could appreciate those kinds of sane and healthy talk shows and bring them ample no. of TRPs. Does it show any deterioration of our taste or that of our media houses? It is time to rethink our positions as viewers as well as journalists. Do we want to create a future India which would yell at one another in discussions? Or do we want to create a generation that would be able to appreciate news only when it would carry mindless bites about sex scandals? On the contrary don’t we want our youngsters to be socially sensitive, insightful, and assertive but at the same time respectful towards one’s undeniable right to express one’s opinion freely? It is time to break stereotypes than breaking news!