Breaking Down News: We Didn’t Start the Fire

Piquant writing from the other side prove that not all have gone bananas over the India-Pakistan relations, while the menace of clickbait in newsrooms is ushering in a plea for slow news.

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Published:October 8, 2016 1:37 am
 india, pakistan, india pakistan, indo pak, indo pak relations, media, surgical strikes, media on surgical strikes, media coverage, nawaz sharif, pakistan governmnet, amita patil memorial award, katrina kaif, smita patil award controversy, rohith vemula, dalit suicide, HRD, dalit status, fake dalit, olympics, indian express news, india news The doughty Dawn soldiers on with a sharp report on the action in Islamabad, with the Nawaz Sharif government reading the riot act to the military and its intelligence agencies and accusing them of allowing Pakistan to be isolated by the world.

As the media hold up a magical realist funhouse mirror to India-Pakistan relations, what the other side writes has become essential reading. It’s useful to know that, like in India, not all of them have gone bananas, and that some publications even retain a sense of humour. The doughty Dawn soldiers on with a sharp report on the action in Islamabad, with the Nawaz Sharif government reading the riot act to the military and its intelligence agencies and accusing them of allowing Pakistan to be isolated by the world. Meanwhile, in the Pakistan Tribune, the droll Shehzad Ghias writes: “No Pakistani is afraid of war: Everyone is brave enough to put up a status online asking for war. As long as I do not have to fight in it, I support every war.”

“In many ways, I am also a soldier,” he continued. “I have waged a war against India for a decade in Facebook comments. I am particularly proud of all the times I have referred to ‘India’ as ‘End ya’. In every cricket match after India loses a wicket I tweet the following: “In dia? Nahee, out dia.” Do you think a country full of people who can come up with such hilarious puns can be defeated by a country where Katrina Kaif can win the Smita Patil Memorial Award?”

Over here, anything is possible. Rohith Vemula has been brought back to life by the tiny-minded 41-page report commissioned by the HRD ministry, which accuses his mother of faking Dalit status. In a video which seemed to circulate mainly on social media, his fellow students Sunkanna Velpulia, who was among those expelled from the university hostel, refused to receive his PhD from casteist hands. The vice-chancellor finally invited a third party to award the doctorate. Some months ago, when Smriti Irani held the HRD portfolio, such a face-off would have ended in police action. Textiles are wonderful things. They immediately make the world a better place. See what Gandhi did with khadi.

Helen Boaden, director of BBC Radio, has quit after 34 years in the organisation, and explained why in considerable detail in her speech at the Prix Italia festival in Lampedusa. Essentially, it is a plea for slow news, for reversing the television-led acceleration and fragmentation of news which has taken media by storm on every continent but Antarctica. And that’s only because the penguins don’t make a rewarding audience. It’s not as if TV news hasn’t tried its luck there, though. BITV, a pioneering but unfortunately exclusive channel in the first wave of Indian satellite TV, played hard to get with audiences in Delhi and Mumbai, but delivered crystal clear video to the penguins in Antarctica, if they happened to be watching. Apparently, the satellite they used was on the wrong orbit.

Through the last two decades, the world over, news has aspired to the condition of the Olympics, which encourages people in its orbit to be “faster, higher, longer”. In the case of news, just “faster” has sufficed to describe the new reality. Boaden wistfully recalls the certainties of the media of the era of the Cold War. Today, they appear to be archaeological relics. Take the instance of the left, which was the conscience-keeper of the world. In the UK, New Labour abetted US-led interventionism in Asia. In India, it tried to explain the exploitative conspiracy behind the Indo-American nuclear deal to perplexed farmers in Birbhum and Bankura, who were far more interested in loan waivers.

“It seems to me that the media can sometimes rush very fast in order to stand still,” Boaden said. “Some of this is inherent in a particular medium… Television news, for example, tends to see things in shards.” And then, it moves on to other interesting shards. So many shards, so little time.

But TV is not her main target. It is clickbait. As media leans more towards internet distribution, sensational simplifications which attract revenue-generating clicks will become a bigger problem. Boaden has been through the whole career graph, which ends in cutting jobs, creating digital newsroom and grappling with clickbait. If television news sets the pace for everyone, there is only one way this can go.

“Has this changed the journalistic zeitgeist for everyone? Boaden asks. “Does the new form of competition now lead, more often than it should, to the headline that is overwritten on more obviously respectable outlets? To demands for black and white answers to overwhelmingly complicated problems? To a rush to judgement where there are victims and villains, and above all scapegoats?” Anyone who’s been watching television or has a life on the internet knows the embarrassing answers to these questions. We await the return of slow news. It had better come back in a hurry.