Saturday, November 7, 2009

TV journalism in India

A passing glance through Abinav's facebook (Abi- this is the second time I have referred to you in this week) linked me to a recent impassionate commentary of the apathy a.k.a. Mumbaikar. Thus, I stuck upon the perfect set up for my next postin.

While we haven't milked the indifferent Mumbai enough just yet, I choose not to focus on that issue today. Instead, what riled me up was the author of that article - Rajdeep Sardesai. Yes, it was a very well written piece about a situation I am loathe to have been a witness. There again, I am not talking about this particular article. Seeing his name associated with it sent me on a train of thoughts and memories chasing recent news and debate coverage on national television - and erupted the discomfiture.

The 90s cable t.v. revolution brought home a new member - the 24*7 news channel. With it, entered Prannoy Roy into my life. That suave, bearded handsome man captured my semantics-loving heart and I would watch him speak, sometimes without blinking an eyelid. But when I think about it, I realize that I was always struck by his calm unfazed demeanor that never once betrayed his position. He was there to report the news as it was, and that he did without slipping a personal emotion. He was to moderate a debate, and therefore, he never played judge. He never blatantly or subtly played favorites, however agonizingly wrong one side of the argument was. Hence, when it was time for Roy sahib to give roots to his sapling, everyone applauded bravo!

Roy brought in a host of fresh faces, enthusiastic workers with a range of baritones that chirped away updates on current affairs, sports, weather, entertainment and the like. Suddenly, there was a systematic improvement in presentation with attention given to even something as minute as the facade of the backstage drama. In a matter of months, hitherto unknown (but good looking) faces like Rajdeep Sardesai, Vikram Chandra, Sonia Razdan, Barkha Dutt, Srinivasan Jain, Vishnu Som, Arnab Goswami took turns at joining us at the dinner table and spurred hour long passionate debates across the familial table.

Sooner, they became celebrities in their own right. While I never had a concept of a weekend back then, Saturday 8:00 pm was about Rajdeep's "The Big Fight" and Sunday 8:00 pm was about Barkha's "We, the People". I think I speak for most of my peers when I say that these two reporters captured our imagination by their fiery brand of question and counter-question, impulsiveness, the ability to provoke politicians and then sheer eloquence. Barkha inspired girls to give a voice to their opinions, she inspired a movie character (speaks volumes of her personality in a cinema crazy country). Journalism gained a new-found respect in a new-found avatar and now seemed like a near-lucrative one too. Come elections, Mahesh Rangarajan and Dorab Sopariwala, two contrasting personalities, enamored the elite with their numbers and statistics. Roy took a backstage and allowed himself to play mentor to his proteges except for the election time coverage.

With fame, comes attraction of greater fame. Probably, more so, the attraction of a new challenge. And as the now-old timers moved to better prospects with news TV channels, the audience could salivate at the prospect of better news coverage. But it has turned out a huge mess. None of these journalists have retained their charm. The pressures of competition are seemingly wearing them off. Rajdeep and Barkha are now incapable of playing fair and square. Yes, communal riots get us all riled up, but face it, you have to play moderator and not judge on that dias. You can't invite people over and then give them a dressing down. Last I saw, Barkha spoke more on her show than the guests. And the 26/11 coverage was insufferable, to say the least. Vikram Chandra has managed to stave off some criticism, but it was quite long before we could accept his inheritance of "The Big Fight". Arnab Goswami, the less said about him the better, although I will comment that his handling of the 26/11 tragedy was by far the best and by far the most composed in the face of horror.

Journalism is a tough job. Yes, anyone can strum words and report. But it takes an astute person to separate the wheat from chaff. We need the Prannoys and the Vinod Duas of yesterday. I personally feel that these known faces need to understand that they carry the weight of intelligentsia and therefore, are responsible for a decorous conduct befitting their job. Keep the emotion aside and do your job well.


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