I say this with utmost sadness that today on Indian TV, the lines between news and entertainment are absolutely blurred. For scoring higher TRPs, news channels have turned into circuses with absolutely no respect for journalism. On 19th February 2016, Ravish Kumar did a prime time show called ‘Media ka Andhera’ where he specifically talked about how screaming and threats on LIVE debates have become the norm and how shameful it is that such violence is going unquestioned by the masses. Although the news every day is a regular mess, here are three recent instances where Indian TV channels made a mockery of news:
Indian superstar Sridevi died recently and India was devastated. It was hard news to swallow because she was only 50 years old and was healthy and fit. Reports of her death are valid because people wanted to know what happened to her. But there is a difference between reporting and making a mockery. From making speculations about her death to straight up digging her past relationships and cosmetic surgeries, the media did not seem to give an ounce of thought to the mourning family. Barkha Dutt wrote a piece about it in the Washington Post condemning how the Indian TV has made an absolute debacle of her death. Debate programs that usually talk about political and social issues, invited guests from Bollywood and some health specialists and went on and on speculating foul play.
How is this any useful? A bunch of people who were not there, who are not the investigating authorities, who are not allowed to legally question anyone, how is their discussion on this incident for hours on prime TV helping anyone? There are legal authorities responsible for investigating the whole thing and since she was not an ordinary citizen, we can assume her case would be dealt with utmost care. Yet the news anchors forgot that while they were chatting about what might have caused Sridevi’s death, there was a BJP leader who ran over 9 children that caused their death. But who wants to hear that right? That ain’t entertaining enough.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s last film “Padmaavat” took months worth of prime screen time because of the so-called outrage it caused to the Rajput community. Over and over the same people that were making violent threats about lynching masses, setting cinema halls on fire and causing harm to life and property were invited on debate channels. The purpose of the Karni Sena seemed to be publicity for gaining a large fan following that could be used in the upcoming elections. It did serve the purpose right because on one such show where Arnab Goswami did a sting operation on a BJP minister in Karnataka, the minister in question admitted that this was all a drama to unite the Rajput community and extremists in the name of honor and use the larger fan base in the upcoming elections hence despite issuing several violent threats on the news so many times, no one was arrested.
Issuing violent threats and provoking people to take up violence is a criminal offence, and instead of putting these people in prison, our media has been providing them with a solid platform. But while it lasted, it sure increased the TRP of the channels because watching those extremists issue such threats on national TV was a shock.
In 2016, videos went viral where some students of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi were accused of chanting pro-Pakistan and anti-India slogans. Three students – Kanhaiyya Kumar, Anirban Bhattacharya and Omar Khalid were in big trouble. News anchors butchered their character on TV with their already made up minds. They were called horrendous names and Kanhaiya Kumar got beaten up inside the court premises where he was being taken for trial. The investigation was made and he and his mates were proven innocent because the videos had been tampered with.
The days before this doctored video information was declared, news channels labelled these students all sorts of ugly names and did not even spare their families. In this process, they provoked the masses by playing on the anti-India slogans over and over and the immense hatred was spread like forest fire. The students in question received death threats on their social media and had to go through so much mental and physical anguish. After the truth was out, guess who took responsibility for playing those videos? No one. There were no apologies, no withdrawals of statements and accusations and no compensation for putting the students and their families through this trauma of declaring them national terrorists.
It seems that like education, journalism has also become all about profit margins and ROI’s. The more sensation your channel creates, the more it will be played and hence more profits. The goal of news channels is not to inform anymore, it is ‘to entertain’ and that is what they seem to do. And I think the average Indian viewer consumes it because first of all, they are stunned to watch such violence and derogatory language used on LIVE TV and secondly because they do not have many alternatives.
India is a massive country with the world’s second-largest population toll. There are issues that we need to genuinely know about and learn what our national machinery is doing to resolve them. Consuming this violent and senseless narrative of news is making our nation a replica of that violence and aggression.