Switching off from news

Published: 18 November, 2011 07:18 IST | Vanita Kohli-Khandekar |

Hindi news channels spout orthodox, regressive views on everything from women and politics

Hindi news channels spout orthodox, regressive views on everything from women and politics. So the home of any regular urban middle-class family, like that of Aarushi Talwar's, looks like a den of vice to a Hindi reporter.

What I really find offensive is the aggressive language used to discuss anything -- the birth of a child or the India-Pakistan dialogue. English news channels, on the other hand, are full of the same old anchors, spouting the same old opinions. Only their hairdos and clothes keep changing.

For someone looking for good, solid news from India, the options are pretty limited. The news bulletin (not the talk shows) on NDTV 24X7 are the only ones which offer a comprehensive look at what has happened through the day. The other choice is DD News. Considering that India has the largest number of news channels anywhere in the world at 132, why is there so little to watch?

Nothing now: If credibility is the currency a news brand trades in,
most are running low these days

You could argue of course that news is very popular in India. In a chatty country, with so many languages, opinions and people, there is always room for more voices. That is evident in the growth of news. From nine news channels in 2,000 we are now at 132. Over eight per cent of the total viewing time nationally now goes to news compared to about one per cent in 2000. This growth has helped in creating awareness, fighting causes or even getting justice like in the Ruchika case or the Jessica Lall case.

On the flipside though, news channels have also become the butt of jokes. These days the stereotype image of a reporter is that of an ignorant bumbler. A Wednesday, Peepli Live and Rajneeti among many recent films have stock characters of mindless reporters chasing a story they think is popular or one that is offered to them, without questioning it.

You could offer the usual reasons that the industry does for plummeting news standards. That there is too much competition, they are too dependent on advertising, so they chase eyeballs. That there are too many non-serious players and not everyone is a member of the News Broadcasters Association which regulates them. All of these are valid.

But that still doesn't explain why the single biggest reason we see pathetic reportage and ill-informed opinions on television is not being addressed -- lack of training. In a magazine or a newspaper it is rare for senior editors to write, because handling a team of people and ensuring that their work is up to par is a full-time task. In television, most senior editors are stars themselves. They become group editors or managing editors because they are stars, not because they manage people and train them well. So when they become the boss, they are still busy being stars. Most hog the primetime news bulletins and top-rated talk shows. These take up a bulk of their time and energy. Where then is the time, interest or effort to mentor or train anyone?

To draw a parallel, Piyush Pandey could never have made O&M the powerhouse it is today, if he was creating all the big ads. He has put in systems that help nurture young talent who create award-winning advertising. So a Sonal Dabral, a Prasoon Joshi and Abhijit Avasthi are all products of an O&M system. Enough of that doesn't happen in news companies.

Maybe some of those famous anchors should take time off to retrain themselves in organisation building. Go for a short management course at Stanford, Harvard or IIM. More importantly, media owners need to believe that so many hours of training is critical for raw reporters and for those with experience both.

If credibility is the currency a news brand trades in, most are running low these days. And having star anchors will not improve it. It is only when news channels can harness, educate and train young people to gather facts, research and apply rigour to their work will you see good stories on your TV screen. That is when India will see really strong, profitable news broadcasters emerge out the mess the industry has become today.

Vanita Kohli-Khandekar is a media specialist and author http://twitter.com/vanitakohlik

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