Job of watching TV news doing a job on jobs

You have a job,a part of that job is to watch TV news for an op-ed column,a part of TV news now is,and will be for sometime...

Written by Saubhik Chakrabarti | Published: February 7, 2009 11:37 pm

You have a job,a part of that job is to watch TV news for an op-ed column,a part of TV news now is,and will be for sometime,about jobs,TV news does the job of reporting on job-related stories in such a way that the part of your job that’s about watching TV news becomes a really fun job all by itself.

CNN-IBN’s discussion on job losses started with the question whether CEOs should take pay cuts. That was an interestingly illogical premise given the news context. But true entertainment preceded it. CNN-IBN quoted Forbes to say four Indian CEOs are among the richest in the world. Forbes of course measures the market value of a rich guy’s assets. But,hey,what’s being off-the-mark by a few thousand crores — the difference between a promoter-CEO’s annual pay and what he’s worth — between friends. You start to see a news show that’s questioning CEOs’ salary levels and the show quotes CEOs’ net worth,so what? And if a panelist mildly points this out,as it happened on CNN-IBN’s show,don’t let that ruin the fun. I certainly didn’t. No one’s ever suggested to me,as CNN-IBN’s conjunction of the Forbes’ figures and its question on CEO pay did — that Mukesh Ambani gets paid around Rs 9,000 crores.

On the programme’s premise: since the provocation was the labour ministry’s data on 500,000 job losses in the last three months of 2008,since most of the jobs were lost in labour-intensive,relatively small firms,since the people who run these firms frequently don’t even call themselves CEOs and since the problem for these firms is falling (mostly global) demand for their products,and since knowing none of this requires awesome journalistic ability — I wouldn’t have known it otherwise — it is interesting that CNN-IBN ignored all of it.

And you have to ask whether as this economic slowdown plays itself out and TV news covers it — general channels,business channels presumably will do a better job -—you will be entertained,not informed. I remember an NDTV talk show —We the People — last year on how India will cope with the global financial crisis. The moderator had referred to conspicuous consumption and,if I remember right,fancy wardrobes and had asked whether something should be done about that. Very entertaining that was,too.

BBC did a special story on India and the global economic slowdown in November last year that actually started by mentioning that the first and most direct impact will be on small firms that sells their product to the West. It followed the story of an Indian who had lost his job as a diamond cutter in Surat and was moving back to his village. It then went from micro to macro to explain that even though toxic financial products were not a problem in Indian banking,banks were still unwilling to lend and that this was complicating the quest for domestic demand revival. I recount this in detail just to warn Indian TV news channels that if they produce shows like this they will inform and even explain,but the fun will be gone.

IPL auctions are of course fun,made-for-TV,go-berserk-with-the-coverage fun. But CNN-IBN managed to retain sobriety in its reporting. NDTV scored in its live blog from Goa.

Talking of blogs and therefore web sites,here’s a postscript on transcripts.

NDTV may well think of taking CNN-IBN’s cue and post the transcripts,not just the videos,of its prime shows. This usefulness of this feature on CNN-IBN’s web site was brought to my notice by a reader’s response to this column’s views on the Mumbai attack coverage. The reader had an issue with a particular observation that applied to both channels. But he found out that with a plain vanilla net connection he could refresh his memory via CNN-IBN’s transcripts of its major shows. NDTV only offered videos that he couldn’t watch.

I checked this out and it seems to be true. Given that broadband connectivity is far from ubiquitous in India,posting transcripts seems to make sense.

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