The rise and fall of television in India

Why does TV focus endlessly on the deeds of the least inspiring section of our society, the politicians?

A friend of mine recently donated her TV set to her maid. She says: “I felt depressed, even disgusted, by what I saw on TV.” Today, she is a happier and more positive person. “I’ve more time than before,” she says, “for friends, for travel, for walks and concerts and other simple pleasures.”

She isn’t alone. Others haven’t actually given away their TV sets but have stopped watching it. They do so only for the occasional movie, or for news of a major event.

I agree with my friend about the pernicious effects of television. TV channels are loaded with negativity. To be fair to them, they can do nothing about natural disasters (floods, earthquakes, tsunamis…) or about inhumanity (terrorist strikes, coups, violence, corruption, crime, rape…).

But in this vast and diverse land where temples have stood for probaly 10,000 years, does nothing good happen? Why does TV focus endlessly on the deeds and misdeeds of the least inspiring section of our society, the politicians? And if a new political misdeed is discovered, our TV channels believe the world cares for nothing else. This news blasts you all day from the idiot box, sometimes for a few days.

As if this is not enough, the channel that claims to have first broken the particular item of news, goes into excruciating detail about how it performed the feat.

If TV news conveys the message that ours is a bad, bad, bad world, the news debates are far worse — just ugly slanging matches between spokesmen of opposing parties. Pugilists and boxers would display greater courtesy. TV anchors, instead of moderating, add to the cacophony – by yelling, browbeating the panelists, constantly interrupting them. A negation not just of the ethics of journalism but of the rudiments of good manners.

India has many TV news channels. No other country has so many. Let’s add: Nowhere else are TV debates so loud, so uncouth, so ill-mannered.

True, journalist-interviewers are supposed to be firm with their subjects, not compliant or servile. But the abrasive and aggressive style of some of our TV anchors offends not just their subjects but all viewers. And alarmingly, such anchors seem to have become role models for young TV journalists whose lack of professional expertise is obvious.

One exception stands out. There does exist an English TV news channel whose debates are marked by sanity and civility. Surprisingly, it is Lok Sabha TV. The panelists on this channel don’t go hammer and tongs at each other, and there’s a mood of civilised discourse. Ironically, the mood changes when this channel telecasts Parliament live. It faithfully shows our honourable Members of Parliament obstructing proceedings, hurling invectives, threatening one another, and on occasion even hurling objects at one another.

When TV burst upon urban India in the early 1980s, the news telecasts used to be deadly dull.

A Doordarshan news reader, head bent, read out the news without a pause. Hardly any field reporting, quotes or interviews, or live action. Field-based coverage got more professional over time, and the birth of cable TV in the early 1990s transformed the TV experience. More channels, more languages, more films, more sports, more live and varied news coverage.

But the pendulum of quality has since swung in the other direction. Technology has dramatically improved, but at the expense of content and good taste.

Paradoxically, it is films – at one time derided as corrupters of morals – that today offer a refuge from the crassness of news television. Television offers a daily cornucopia of cinema: scores of films in many languages. Some are utterly commercial, some quite boring, a few entertaining, a few very good. But you at least know they peddle fiction. If you want to plunge into escapism for an hour or two, TV gives you options through cinema.

But in general, TV has sunk to an unbelievable low. Can the further vulgarisation of a wonderful medium be halted? Here are a few suggestions:

lSlash coverage of politics and politicians by at least 50 per cent.

lMore coverage of science, education, entrepreneurship, health, architecture, social work, women, rural India.

lA more conscious effort to project genuine achievements on many fronts.

lLet TV anchors maintain decorum. Everyone – viewers, experts, spokesmen, the government – should boycott channels whose anchors bark and shriek and scream.

TV can still redeem itself. Else, more and more people will donate or throw away their idiot boxes.
<a href="http://The rise and fall of television in India – The Hindu.” target=”_blank”>Rise and fall of TV news in India

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