The shrill cries for battle have become a daily ritual for India’s TV news anchors. Some channels are experimenting with other combative-styled programming to reel in the increasingly frustrated audience. The India Today War Room had an earnest presenter, who attempted to explain the tactical nuances of conflict via a complicated sand model. He pointed out forests and troop movements, the lay of the land, but it could have been Mars as far as the baffled viewers were concerned. He struggled to talk us through what was going on with the extremely limited information he had but for once it hardly mattered. Anyone watching would have been too gobsmacked by his outfit — khaki pants and an army-styled sleeveless jacket— almost as if right after the bulletin, he was going to grab his AK47 and rush into action.
I get the whole when in Rome… TV anchors wear traditional Indian clothes on Diwali and Holi. Some display a flag badge on Independence Day and often end a bulletin with greetings on New Year’s Day. It’s appropriate and polite. One sees war-seasoned, international journalists donning headscarves while reporting from conflict zones in the Middle East. There is a context to the clothing. But to be broadcasting from the comfort of an air-conditioned studio wearing a jacket in Delhi’s sweltering October heat for no apparent reason than a lurid show of patriotism seems juvenile.
This is not the IPL. It is especially jarring considering the devastation families of the recently deceased soldiers in Uri are enduring. Watching a city-based anchor in fatigues who knows almost nothing of the ground realities is distracting from the real stories. Besides the sports anchors, one almost never sees newscasters on BBC or CNN in anything other than a formal suit and tie.
In Pakistan, after the horrific attack on children in December 2014, Geo News anchors wore the school’s uniform during the evening bulletin; a gruesome and misplaced show of solidarity that provoked outrage among citizens. Nothing should deflect from the seriousness of the news, least of all the attire of the people presenting it. In any case, it’s only in times of political crisis that TV news sees an increase in viewership — an election, a terrorist attack or war.
According to an article on exchange4media.com, time spent on news is less than 1 per cent of the total time spent on television in India. When news is judged only by the TRP yardstick, you can hardly blame the competition for trying a distinctive (if desperate) sartorial makeover to stand out. However, clothing conveys so much, possibly even the channel’s position on an issue. In this fragmented news industry, the viewer is more likely to stick around if he’s interested in what they have to say rather than the fluff surrounding it. Against this inflated and unrestrained atmosphere of simmering anger and bravado, the precise sartorial choice doesn’t count. Far better for newscasters to pull out their gray blazers, get the story, and fade into the background.