Television debates are no longer formal discussions. They are loud shouting matches among opposing voices where no one listens to the other person, and viewers suffer the collateral damage. Given the character that these debates have acquired over time they serve the viewers by either entertaining them or making them angrier than they already are.
One big issue with most of these debates is that the focus is not the panellists but the anchor, who ideally should be nothing more than a moderator. The view of the anchor seems to be of utmost importance. India has a culture of hero worship, and this has turned TV anchors into celebrities. People often want to know their opinion on issues rather then what the panellists, who are supposed to be experts, think. We often find Facebook pages in support of different anchors which show people’s adoration for their respective point of views. They are seen as people with high morals and whatever they say is supposed to be the ultimate truth. The anchors have certainly become opinion generators for many. The problem with this culture is that the panellists lose their free will while giving their opinion as they are at the mercy of the anchor who pre-decides the direction in which the discussion should go and also the level of nuance each argument should have, and anyone going beyond that is shut down. The panellists are not given the freedom to explore the topic beyond the anchor’s understanding of it. The result is that even though there are 8 to 10 participants in every debate, the variety of opinion becomes limited.
The choice of panellists is also a problem. Though panellists become like horses whose harness is in the hands of the anchor. A proper debate is one where different aspects of an issue are highlighted, all participants are willing to listen, and while representing opposing views and interests, there is a collective effort to come to a conclusion which will serve everyone. For instance, suppose there is a discussion on communalism, then at the end of it, all participants should at least go home with less communal minds. Instead of this people often come in with angry faces and go back with the regret of not being able to kill the other participant. The panellists are so rigid with their views that they don’t even have the intention to listen to the other side. Instead of reaching a conclusion together everyone comes in with conclusive thoughts and try to project their views at the expense others.
Another problem is the repetition of the same panellists for all kinds of issues. If you regularly watch TV debates, then you might get the feeling that there are some 10 to 15 people who are experts on everything. A bunch of people deliberating on everything not just hampers the variety of opinion but also the quality of it. Moreover, often the panellists have allegiance to some political party and even discussions on non-political issues are turned into a political war where whataboutery is the main weapon.
Lastly, the debates are not designed to serve the viewer. Instead, it serves the purpose of everyone who is participating in it. The anchor uses the platform to establish oneself as an ultimate authority on truth, the panellists either try to serve the purpose of the organisation they are allied to or simply try to establish themselves as morally superior beings who are experts on every subject and attempt to justify the tags they provide themselves such as ‘liberals’, ‘left-wing’, ‘right-wing’ etc. The viewer, who is supposed to be the ultimate beneficiary of the debate’s outcome, his interest, on the other hand, is completely neglected.