Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Fourth Estate

Yesterday, I happened to catch a little bit of Fareed Zakaria interviewing James Baker on CNN. I don't know much about US politics (hell I don’t know too much about Indian politics) and to be honest, I am not hugely interested in it either (Yes, sometimes I do live up to the femme stereotype of not being turned on by politics or high finance.).

Anyways I digress, in-spite of this general lukewarm interest and all that, I still paid more attention to this show, then I have ever been tempted to pay to any of our local media friends - whether it’s the Banshee Murkha or Demented Dazedeep or obstreperous Earnumb (*any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental) .

Mr. Zakaria is certainly an Indian albeit has probably been bred in foreign media climes. As are the BDE and their ilk – so why is there such a stark, almost cultural difference in reporting?

The former is almost statesman-like in his dignity, yet incisive and intelligent in the way he handles his programme, and his guests. He talks yes, but more than that he allows his guests to state their view. If he disagrees, he does so politely, and precisely. He does not try and outshout them to get the point across. He certainly does not try and force feed his opinions and gets the guest to change his/her stance. The latter, well the less said about them the better, loud hysteria, aggressive confrontational tactics, music, melodrama.

The new-casters are no longer just vessels that convey news – blandly as in the
Komal G.B. Singh era. They have become dramatis personae in their own right, a one actor play and the newsroom is the stage. That’s the only way one can explain the fact that in one half an hour segment with six panellists, the host newscaster monopolizes, nay, outshouts and corners the stage for at least 20 minutes. And they also seem to have acquired the eccentricities and temperamental tantrums of the prima donnas in the bargain. (The knee jerk and far from sophisticated response to criticism which we have witnessed in the last couple of years – is a testament to that fact).

The interesting question is what has caused this transition.

I refuse to believe that THIS is something which is desired by the audience – almost everyone I know off cringes at the sledge hammer tactics adopted by them. Almost everyone I know has scant respect for their opinions, their reportage or their interviewing and news casting skills.

Is it the curse of the 24/7 reporting which louder volumes are equated with more eyeballs – again, a difficult hypothesis to swallow – BBC/CNN and others have had continuous coverage for years – and no, I still haven’t seen any of them prancing around hysterically yet.

I had written a post some time back on the overall dumbing down of television because of a shift in the audience profile – but somehow that argument is difficult in the context of the news. Yes, the internet is a big part of it, but for most of us, the television is still remains a very important medium for news.

The only thing which perhaps hints of an explanation is that it is symptomatic of the nouveau Indian attempting to shake off years of under-dog-hood by loud belligerence – where aggression is mistaken for assertiveness, and cacophony for confidence.

It’s a pity that the so called intelligentsia of the fourth estate have to also resort to that stereotype.

Edit Note: There is some hajaar chaos happening in life right now, which is why I have been and will probably continue to be so irregular ( blogging/commenting). please to excuse ( archives, archives!).


The Bride said...

I guess they've gone the Fox New route then. You do have a point about nouveau-Indianness though. As someone who know longer lives in India and thus had an opportunity to step back from it a bit, the new breed of Indian professional is overly aggressive with a tendency to talk non-stop and argue/insist on his point during meetings. It becomes very stark when it's a meeting with a group from different countries. One Chinese colleague commented that she dreaded meetings with her Indian colleagues for this reason, another Chinese student on an exchange programme to Europe said he avoided classes with lots of Indians because they tended to dominate the discussion. Granted the Chinese veer in the opposite direction - never speaking up - but we seem to have crossed the line into obnoxiousness.

sra said...

Banshee Murkha - :-D I'm not sure who you mean (unless it's the very obvious but I think one other non-kha qualifies for it better). Did I tell you earlier that my new year resolution was to stop watching one of these news channels because I could not take the shrieking and the interrupting and the crassness? Very proud to say I've stuck to it.

popsie said...

"well the less said about them the better, loud hysteria, aggressive confrontational tactics, music, melodrama" - can't agree more!:-)

Satish Bhat said...

A contrarian thought - Has it anything to do with the millisecond attention span and channel surfing of today's viewers ? Would DD of old have behaved differently had there been so many channels in the 80's ?

Of course this is no excuse for any kind of over-the-top reporting.

Anil P said...

Back here, it is "if you cannot out argue them, you out-shout them".

neha said...

I think it just takes time to develop skills and set up the kind of systems that can bring quality to TV. In that respect, DD has majorly let down the Indian public.

I would like to think that as the multiple channels era matures, the channels would stabalise to some reasonable quality; but it seems just as likely that these new values (there must be some that they use in their annual reports) will just dig their heels and stay. I think a lot of American Media seems like that.

However, I wouldn't really want us to go the Chinese way... I recently found about the govt. being on the board of directors of every major company, and I think that is wrong. Worse than that, their judicial system seems fairly dodgy too - with pre-trial detention with limited rights for the prisoner. It was for some good reason that the we have independence of the three branches of executive, judicary and governance.

AmitL said...

Hi,Cyn-nicely thought out topic-and,well,I feel what is happening is that with today's tough competition,whatever sells and increased the TRPs, is followed by everyone, including newscasters...even if it's not required,a small bit of news sounds more earthshaking than a 7.8 intensity earthquake.:)
Oh,yes-here's hoping the 'hazaar chaos' in ur life get sorted out soon.:)

Maddy said...

the selection of a news item is so cleverly done - the right thing at the right time for the right audience with the right purpose...that applies to spontaneous & breaking news as well!!

Arunima said...

aur behenji, humne toh TV dekhna bandh kardiya. Shanti shanti om Shanti! :-)

Thanatos said...

Perhaps we should have news programs that only last an hour. There's only so much happening in the world in one day anyway.

phatichar said...

kahaan ho yaar?

A said...

It is the audience, at least in the US. Zakaria caters to sane people. Many of his peers in the US are as loud and crass as the jackasses in India.

Everything okay?