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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2345

Red Faces On Indian TV Channels

By Tusshar Charan - Syndicate Features

Call it ‘hearsay’-based, but this piece is being written largely on the basis of what one has read or heard from trustworthy sources about events in our TV studios when Bihar assembly poll results started trickling in.

Having imposed a long time ago a voluntary ‘ban’ on watching the so-called Indian TV ‘news’ channels which air almost nothing but the views of growling anchors accompanied by ear-splitting cacophony of the panellists in the studio, reliance (not with capital R!) on third parties has been inescapable.

Even if someone were to question the reliability of some of the ‘sources’ this much has been clear: the ‘news’ channels were running for cover for their bloopers on the morning of the results. ‘Reputed’ TV anchors had no qualms in doing a compete U-turn after first authoritatively announcing the results in favour of the BJP-led alliance and then updating viewers with an opposite story—all within a matter of an hour so.

But surely this was not the first time the channel anchors ‘breaking news’ round the clock had eggs on their face. More to the point: does it or has it made any difference? Have any lessons been learnt? No, Sir!

The manner of covering elections and even politics has been converted into a spectacle akin to a boxing match in which two rivals go after each other’s throat. Till ‘freedom’ dawned on TV channels in India, election rallies were not covered to the extent they are now. Of course, the ‘sarkari’ TV would concentrate on the rallies of the ruling party. But mercifully, it was confined to brief clips. Now the entire speeches of certain leaders, Narendra Modi in particular, at all venues are covered during election campaigns.

It is a different issue whether it is ethically right or wrong. What it suggests is that the channels covering the poll rallies may have some stakes and that is why they keenly track the fortunes of certain leaders or parties. The viewers are plied with an excessive dose of the campaign coverage that includes TV studio ‘debates’ which fail to make any sense because of the verbal mayhem perpetrated by all the participants, egged on by the anchor.

So when the campaign ends, the channels can barely wait for the poll results which they assume gives them an opportunity to establish how prescient they have been in forecasting the results.

Oh, if the results do not confirm the predictions of the channels the blame can always be transferred to someone else. In this respect, they draw their inspirations from the politicians they so avidly trail day and night—and sometimes denounce. The political parties almost never pin the blame on their ‘bosses’, nor do the TV channels. In the case of political parties it is the result of sycophancy and absence of internal democracy that provides a safety net to the ‘bosses’.

The TV channels can always say that the anchors do not gather news or information; it is supplied by other members of the staff. It forces one to guess that there is no system of checks and counter-checks in our TV channels which is considered to be an essential step before putting out the news.

There have been reports of TV men and women covering an event ‘tutoring’ the persons they were interviewing or talking to. The young and enthusiastic TV gladiators reporting from the field sound brave, impressive and intelligent. But, at times, also plain stupid! Still, it is not uncommon to smell that there is a definite ‘slant’ in their reporting. Could it be that the inaccuracies that are later detected at the time of broadcasting the news creep in because of this?

Look at the excuses these blundering voices who claim to speak for the ‘nation’ offer after they are found to have jumped the gun to claim the first position in the race for ‘breaking news’. It was all the fault of the exit poll agencies or the data supplied! Lame as these excuses sound, what the channels have to explain is why they have been tripping in the matter of poll result announcement over the past few years.

They will continue to be embarrassed if they believe that qualities like accuracy and patience stand in the way of winning the all-important TRP race. Yes, Television Rating Point may be important for business—attracting ad revenue—but is media only about earning profits?

In the mushrooming market of TV news channels, there are many which are not making the kind of profits the proprietors would want. The farcical ‘Breaking News’ competition has not helped them earn more. Yet, they are ardent competitors in the TRP race and think nothing of giving the go by to accurate reporting.

Accuracy in reporting on TV channels is considered a four-letter word because it is taken to be a synonym of bland, insipid reporting, which used to be the watermark of the print media before the arrival of TV channels in India. But is that really true?

Most viewers, as indeed newspaper readers, like to be supplied true and reliable news. They do not mind a bit of ‘spice’ added to it, often in the shape of ‘editorialising’ the news, but travesty of truth in the dissemination of the news puts them off. For the news dispenser matters like trust, credibility and respectability should matter more than piping a rival to the post.

It will be seen that whenever a TV channel goes wrong (not just in reporting poll results, but other events too) the root of the problem is the haste with which the news is broken. It may not always be the fault of the channel if the origin of the incomplete, inaccurate or misleading information is traced to an official source or someone authorised to speak to the media.

But that does not happen frequently. Misleading journalists occurs more frequently while reporting politics where rivals are always looking for an opportunity to plant a story against the rival. That, however, relates in most cases to allegations and counter allegations, part of another kind of political campaign.

A misleading repot could also stem from a deliberate act by the media house which follows a political agenda. A large number of media houses, both electronic and print, are suspected to have their own political priorities. But one would like to believe that even the media houses known to take a coloured view of certain events would like to be respected and known for putting out facts rather than fiction.

- Asian Tribune -

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