I remember expressing my anguish when the Sunday evening DD blockbuster was interrupted with the 9PM news for a good half hour. Back then NEWS was data and facts and Movies and songs were prime form of TV Entertainment. Today I watch 9PM slots on major news channels to pass time and enjoy the war of words between the panelists. The fact that Smriti Irani has now moved from Ekta Kapoor’s K brand of serials to Newshour debates is a consolation for my mother who also joins me to watch debates that feature her. While I remember the graduate marketing trainees discussing Jassi Jaise Koi Nahin episodes the next day in office, these days the office is virtually divided into Modi and Sonia camps. The regular tea breaks are full of arguments on various scams, each of my colleagues is trying to outdo the other with facts, conspiracy theories and sometimes with inside information. I miss the times when such tea breaks featured repeat of Laughter challenge jokes cleverly replayed by my colleagues.
On a more serious note, News is also no more about investigation; it solely relies on sensationalizing events. This is evident from the fact that negativity is promoted over positive news. Negative news is easy to sensationalize and finds an audience without much effort. I can’t blame the news channels alone, since they are just catering to their audience. Crowds tend to gather around an accident more than they would gather around an artist playing an instrument. As Tavleen Singh points out in an interview to a news portal, investigative journalism is expensive, risky and time consuming. On the contrary gathering a bunch of panelists and entertaining people with a verbal duel is cheap, easy and instant success. No wonder prime time news these days is about debates and not investigative reporting. In old days debates were conducted only on special occasions like budgets, the rest of the prime time was full of news reports.
The focus of main stream media or MSM as they call it is also extremely misguiding. As Mr. P Sainath highlights in his documentary “Nero’s guests”, the prime time channels send fifty reporters to a fashion show in Mumbai while there is no coverage of the suicide of cotton farmers a few hundred kilometers from Mumbai. Sainath being the “Rural Affairs Editor” for the Hindu is among the few who are focused on issues concerning 60% of the population – Agriculture. The fact that such a documentary had to be funded by foreign news channels shows how skewed the priorities of our nation are.
Interview formats have also changed drastically. Gone are the days were interviewers merely acted as a medium asking relevant questions and reacting subtly to responses. Today interviews are more of how much of his character the anchor can impose on the interviewee rather than how much substance he can extract from his valued guest.
We can’t hold the media alone responsible for this massive shift in their priorities. The media is merely catering to the audience it thinks is its customer. In an age where the middle class spends most of its free time surfing channels, the channels are doing their best to get their share of viewership. In this race for higher TRP’s they have perhaps forgotten their role as the fourth pillar of democracy.