B Day,V Day,O day

Three days in two weeks that showed why news TV is what it is

Written by Saubhik Chakrabarti | Published:February 28, 2009 12:22 am

THE week before this one (this column’s weekly cycle begins on Saturday) was crushingly disappointing for TV news. Try to remember: love wasn’t lathi-charged and taxes weren’t tweaked. The week saw a major-incident-free V Day and a stimulus-free B Day. Two shocks in three days for TV news. The strain showed.

NDTV was so upset on Budget Day. The biggest crisis in 20 years,may be 50 years,and the government does nothing,nothing — there’s was no mistaking the angry disappointment in NDTV anchor’s post-budget assessment.

CNN-IBN looked more puzzled than angry. It was perhaps to maintain that thematic consistency that it allowed the BJP’s Kirit Sommaiya to propound an economic thesis that defeated any attempt to make sense of it. Puzzling too was the insistent attempt to get ex-RBI governor Bimal Jalan to advise politicians. But I loved the TV talent show-style points cards CNN-IBN’s Budget panelists were asked to hold up. That was just so TV news,telling us boring chaps that the line between Indian Idol and the Indian economy may be far thinner than we think.

Strangely,or perhaps not strangely at all,when the government did do something this week,news channels didn’t exhibit the opposite and equal reaction. Nor,from what I saw on NDTV and CNN-IBN at least,was there any political analysis of the government seemingly changing its position in a week’s time. Post-interim budget,government officials had loftily explained to the media that there were enough stimuli already,via the earlier packages and the fiscal deficit.

Even NDTV Profit and CNBC were reticent on the issue. Half the time spent on explaining Pranab Mukherjee’s cement duty cuts could have been devoted to a quick interrogation of the official logic.

Why not get a government economic administrator and ask him or her explain the timing behind the third stimulus? Mind you,the day before the third stimulus was announced was O Day. TV news was exhausted,perhaps. The optimal amount for all kinds of comments on Oscars for Slumdog has already been exceeded. I will only observe that CNN-IBN calling AR Rahman the ‘Mozart of Madras’ shows us why TV news has its own distinctive character.

These small exhibits tell us so much more about this rich medium than large,somewhat obvious examples. You can’t get a more obvious example than TV news on Valentine’s Day. I had made a clear decision on my consumption pattern. For B Day,mostly English news channels,for V Day,mostly Hindi.

11.45 am on V Day,and Hindi TV news still didn’t have a Muthalik-style hungama to report. But when news doesn’t come to Hindi TV news,Hindi TV goes out and makes news.

Star News interviewed couples,asking them to share what’s precious between them with us. Aaj Tak asked a daughter to ask her mom and dad what love really means. It also broke the story of a couple for whom tenderness means telepathy — he got her a rose,wow,she got him roses,he got her a box of chocolates,incredible,she got one for him,ditto with wine. Zee News got college students in Bangalore to sing for love. NDTV India sent out a male reporter with a rose.

But India TV….what was India TV doing? 12.15 pm on V Day,and India TV had chosen Sanjay Dutt’s political future over lovers.

Is India TV turning,you know,serious? That’s a crisis Indian journalism may not be prepared for.

 

saubhik.chakrabarti@expressindia.com

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