Thursday, January 10, 2013

Why border issues with Pakistan should not be discussed on TV….

The mindless TV debates just wont stop. TV channels have found a new topic in the recent border conflict between India and Pakistan to hold the attention of their audiences for a few more days. It almost appears like they heaved a sigh of relief when the story came about – for TV channels look for new fuel all the time – the Delhi rape story was fading out very quickly. Soon as this one fades, TV channels will hope for another sensational story breaking. And the TV business will continue. For TV is nothing but a business. The one thing that it surely isn’t is good quality journalism.

TV anchors love anything that can arouse the passion of their viewers. They loved Anna because he was old and frail and wore a Gandhi topi. When he fasted, there was the real fear that he may lose his life. That was enough for our TV channels. They gave him minute-by-minute coverage. When he ran to escape rain showers at Raj Ghat, they made that into a promo that ran a thousand times. After all, an old man running for cover was quite a sight. TV channels didn’t bother to discuss how silly some of the recommendations of Anna’s version of the Lokpal bill was. That was thought to be too serious; not enough fun. When Kejriwal started putting out names of powerful people to shame them, TV channels gave him “guest of honour” status. After all, who doesn’t like slander? It was a sure shot way to get eyeballs. But the biggest draw on TV is always crime. Crime of any sort. The Delhi rape proved that. None of the TV channels was interested in a serious debate on the real issues. They were interested in covering the protests….for that was good drama. Surely during those elaborate two weeks, TV channel TRPs must have soared. Now the story of the beheading of an Indian soldier has its job to do. TV is a tough business.

The only job Indian TV channels do is to present one side of the story. They do this intentionally….to raise the pitch. By presenting India as a “victim”, they provoke Indian viewers to feel angry. They show the other side as an vicious aggressor, who entered our territory to attack us. They build a scenario in which every nationalistic Indian is almost forced to see his adrenaline level rising. Not that Pakistan is not guilty of all this, but the tempo is raised to such a pitch that a frenzy builds. The whole news show is actually drama, not news at all. But since it is shown on a news channel, most poor viewers are made to believe that its news.

TV channels should not even be allowed to discuss subjects such as border issues. The reasons are several:

·        India is always shown to be a poor victim. Does it ever occur to these omniscient TV anchors that maybe India is a savvy aggressor as well. If they tracked Pakistani media, they would realize this. The Pakistanis have been trying to say for a few days now that Indian troops attacked them a few days back. Apparently, we entered their side of the border and killed a few of their soldiers. This is entirely believable. India is the big daddy in this geography. It is not a paper tiger as our TV channels make it out to be; our army is an efficient fighting machine; not one that will sit still and watch itself being mauled. Get real anchors.

·        Nor is our political establishment (and I don’t want to differentiate between NDA and UPA here) as weak kneed as these sensation-mongering anchors would make us believe. Our TV anchors like to present our political establishment as being corrupt, and weak, and anti-nationalistic and so on. For them, a peace initiative is a sign of weakness. But if Pakistani media is to be believed, India is anything but. They hold India guilty of fomenting trouble in Balochistan. It’s like reverse-Khalistan. They call this India’s vendetta against Pakistan. Is India capable of doing this? Of course it is. Is it really doing it? No one knows. It’s a national secret. Is our RAW a lame-duck spy organization full of spineless sleuths? C’mon, get real. Don’t expect government officials to come to TV shows and assure the country that “Don’t worry. We are also doing the same to them”. Some things are best left out of media.

·        Then again, our TV channels do not understand how complicated international issues can be. Take Kashmir. It is hardly an open-and-shut case. The history of Kashmir is complex. If you read Ramachandra Guha’s “India after Gandhi”, it provides a brilliant insight into the situation of those days. Unlike Hyderabad and Junagadh which fully acquiesced to Indian control, Kashmir never did. I don’t want to go into too many details myself, but suffice it to say that India played some cards right; some wrong. As a result, the issue is not as simple as it appears to most Indians. For our TV anchor to scream on TV that “Kashmir is an Indian state” is utter ignorance and extremely dangerous.

·        Our anchors don’t even know how to moderate their shows. When the Pakistanis (as so many other) guests say that the anchor doesn’t even allow them to speak, the anchor wears that accusation as a badge of honor. Apparently, he is the “tough judge” who won’t allow a “scheming lawyer” to utter lies and distract from the subject. Hello….but who gave the anchor that role? It’s the anchor who is dumb; not the guest.

Take another example. India accuses Pakistan of not putting the breaks on Hafeez Saeed – for publicly giving hate speeches against India. But what about our TV anchors? They give hate speeches against Pakistan on TV. Only a few thousand watch Sayeed. How many millions watch our anchors????

Someone asked me why people watch such channels if they feel the way I do. Well, they don’t. TV viewership data shows that most people don’t watch these channels. Compared to the number 1 Hindi GEC, Star Plus, the number one English news channel gets 0.47% viewership. But its not that there are so few Indians who understand English. Look at data from newspapers. The number 1 English newspaper (TOI) has some 46% readership of the number 1 Hindi newspaper (Jagran). This despite the fact that Jagran has so many more editions than TOI. This proves that it is not English which acts as a barrier, it is the content on our news channels which does so. Shall I prove the point further? Even the number 1 Hindi news channel (Aaj Tak) only manages 10% of the number Star Plus. If language was the issue, then Aaj Tak should have done much more right?

The real truth is that this kind of jingoism just has to stop. Especially on our TV channels. A hateful neighbor is bad enough. We don’t need hateful TV anchors also. These TV anchors cannot even be called news editors, yet they like to call themselves that. They are at best horror specialists who should work for Balaji Telefilms. They make outstanding drama, but they call it news. They are cheating their audiences. Can we have some self-regulation here please????

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