26/11, apart from having created numerous ripples in the Indian psyche, has probably brought to the forefront a very important concern regarding the nature of Indian TV journalism and the motives that propel its imaginations. Post Satellite television boom, a whole diaspora of news channels have found viewers hooked on to them 24X7. While the very quantity of news reporting might seem to suggest, that the viewers have a better choice, that the common man can be better informed or even that the plethora of 'news material' is on a way to making the democracy more mature, the content of today's news has led to a serious doubt that this may not be true.
Gone are the days when people after a tiring day's work, switched on their TV sets at 8:30 PM for a 30 minutes of daily news, (in Hindi, or English or sometimes in a regional language). Males of the family had to 'Shhh' their kids if they asked a question or even throw a stern glance if any interruptions happened during those 30 minutes . These 30 minutes defined the world . In quantity or content, those minutes were the final say. You did not choose what you wanted to hear, you did not complain if a certain coverage did not last more than 30 seconds.
It was a welcome change when colour TVs and Satellite television joined the family tree. Gradually but certainly the media gurus smelt gold in the news distribution market. 'Lo behold' and you turn on your TV today, and find news , analysis, debates and dramatisation all at the flick of a button on your remote. The gurus threw in advertisements for their sponsors. They worked hard to make their news reporting the fastest, the most colorful and the most popular. Female news readers got rid of their boring sarees and chose more attractive designer wear. The rickshaw wallah after having had a hell of a day on the busy streets now turns on to watch the newsreaders if not the news. 'Breaking news' and 'Flash news' crept into the bottom of your TV screens capturing the attention of a mindless TV surfer. Everybody got happy. Nobody saw the catch.
While News has become more and more colorful, it has also become audience conscious. The news channel with the highest viewership, (or TRP in media language) calls the bucks. A very uncomfortable situation I should say. Unlike most other professions,news journalism can get very nasty if it goes all out to satisfy its customers. There is a very good possibility that viewer oriented TV journalism is nothing short of the proverbial 'playing to the gallery.' Here's a simple test, if your favourite news channel is continuously and consistently reporting what you like to hear, chances are that you have fallen prey. Lets face it . 'Truth is bitter' , but if you are finding your news too sweet all the time, chances are that you are not listening to the truth at all.
I am afraid that somehow news reporting is increasingly getting mixed up with opinion making. News Channels in India are increasingly becoming judgemental commentaries than fact journals. No doubt, the human mind likes suggested opinions than dry facts. No doubt, that intended debates sound more exciting than evidence based realities. What is lost however, is the idea of news reporting being a free democracy's method of bringing 'facts' to the common man, and enabling him make informed opinions. Opinions are thrown on the common man today. If you don't like the opinion , change your channel.
Even as I write this, a hysteria of a possible war between India and Pakistan looms large. God forbid,but if any military aggression ensues, the world would be in a very bad situation. I wouldn't be far from the truth if I stated that the main culprit for any aggression , is not really the terrorists or even the inability of any Governmental diplomacy but that it is the 'Freedom of the media' . Unconfirmed pieces of news and ridiculous conclusions have made their rounds on the television sets all over the world after 26/11. The news channels have managed to get Indians mad at Pakistanis, and the Pakistanis mad at the Indians. Meaningless interpretations of innocent statements have created utter chaos in the mindset of both Governments. Heated debates have given opportunities to irrelevant personalities to make their points. The viewers have had no need to think. The (unconfirmed) facts, their interpretations, conclusions and opinions have all been given to the common man in a single package. The Breaking News.
In all this , it is very difficult for sense to prevail. Responsible reporting can be very bad of the News channel's TRP. But is absolutely necessary. Its paramount that we realise this much before it gets too late.