Telescope: Back from the poles

News anchors cried themselves hoarse for most of the year, but TV got back to the business of informing in the wake of demonetisation

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | Updated: December 29, 2016 6:03 am
demonetisation, demnetisation reports, demonetisation coverage, demonetisation india, india demonetisation coverage, demonetisation news, demonetisation crisis, cash crunch, notes seized, (Express photo by Partha Paul)

This year, the nation was divided into two. Once again. National, anti- national. Patriot, traitor. Pro-Pak, anti-Pak. Soft on terror, hard on terrorism. Cow rakshak, coward. The headlines and the news anchors took up polar positions on either side of the LoC and TV screens. There was no room for Left, Right and Centre any longer, only extremists wherever you looked. The mass media was convulsed with mass hysteria. What the Dickens, “it was the worst of times”.

In fact, Charles Dickens’ words describe the media culture of 2016 so perfectly that the ink from his pen might just have dried on the page: “It was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity… we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way” (A Tale of Two Cities).

This is the year when news died right before our eyes, with a bang, not a whimper; the nation no longer wanted to know, it wanted to take up opposing sides — bang bang. Hence, the screaming hashtag headlines, hence the battle on the box in debates. From the February/March “#Traitortapes” of JNU’s “anti-national” protests — as they were referred to on channels like News X, Times Now, Zee News — to the “home-grown, made in Pakistan terror” in Kashmir in July to September’s “#Surgicalstrikes” on anyone who wanted overt information on the covert operation after the Uri terror attack — worse, who supported the right of Pakistani artistes to work in India (remember Shyam Benegal or Om Puri) — and ending with November’s demonetisation, TV news made every issue into a national inquisition on patriotism and shouted down anyone who disagreed. One nation, many voices, one opinion.

Zee News said it was “Abki baar seema paar” as news anchors and their guests crossed all boundaries, threw courtesy and caution to the winds, and insulted each other — and our intelligence — with opinionated opinions. In 2016, television news, along with social media, fostered the belief that if you question the government’s policies — or dare to disagree with the TV anchor — you are “anti-national”.

Factual news has been the biggest victim of the year and nowhere more so than on television. If Aaj Tak anchors can seriously discuss that the new Rs 2,000 currency note has an embedded nano GPS chip (a joke, they later claimed), we are on the doorstep of this year’s biggest worldwide media phenomenon: Fake news. But as the year ends, there are glimmerings of hope: Business news television reporting on the Tata Sons feud has been informed and sober; television news, in general, has reported — yes, reported — on the aftermath of demonetisation from ATMs, railway stations, auto-rickshaws and the paddy fields, tracking its impact on people across the country. A significant increase in viewership for Hindi news during November testifies to the public’s desire for information, on demonetisation in this instance, and how TV can inform, not inflame.

Also, as anchors become hoarse from shouting matches, debate fatigue could be setting in. News is making a comeback: CNN News 18, NDTV 24×7, India Today have all returned to news shows at evening prime time slots. So don’t despair just yet.

The other cautionary media tale comes from the US where the likes of CNN completely failed to gauge the ground realities of the presidential election, reporting instead what they wanted to believe: That Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump. That a TV star proved them wrong is far from comforting. Facebook-style aggregation of news, tailored to suit individual tastes, informed by opinions from Twitter, What’s App and Wikileaks hacks — when we watch or read only channels or publications reflecting our beliefs — has challenged the ideal of objectivity in journalism.

On the other hand, 2016 has seen the availability of countless regional news channels across the length and breadth of India, allowing for an embarrassment of choices and points of view. Can there be a single, dominant narrative in the 2017 assembly elections? Unlikely.

The marketing of “the nation” continues on the entertainment channels and it’s business as usual barring a few experiments. Here the good “bahus” of large “parivars” rule the huge bungalows they inhabit in serials such as Yeh Hai Mohabbatein (Star Plus), Jamai Raja (Zee) and Udaan (Colors), to name just a few, and continue to cry their hearts and eyes out. Here the mythological epic, typified by Sankat Mochan Mahabali Hanuman (Sony) celebrates a virtuous past.

Serials such as Aadhe Adhure and Bhaage Re Mann (both on Zindagi) and POW Bandhi Yudh Ke on Star Plus (about two Indian soldiers who return home after 17 years) have offered exciting new prospects for good drama; they have questioned the concept of family values extolled in our soaps, but not strongly enough to unsettle the ruling order.

If there is a challenge to the Hindi soaps, it comes from Turkey. Yes indeed. Fatmagul and Feriha with their family sagas told in linear simple storylines, dubbed in Hindi, have replaced the Pakistani shows — and Fawad Khan — on Zindagi as our latest heartthrobs.

That’s this year’s oddity and it stops us just short of wondering whether the time is not far away when we will have to stand up to hear the national anthem playing on television every day.

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

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    TrueLier RAGA
    Feb 19, 2017 at 3:35 pm
    SONY TV.. please do not do chhad in Ramayana... some of the scenes are misleading in this serial.. it makes people confused by which people will discredit our sacred Ramayana,,,For the entertain purpose sony has shown the scenes, which are out of our Ramayana
    Reply
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      satish zutshi
      Jan 13, 2017 at 5:35 pm
      A big step taken by modi ji as well as RBI,it will take some time but in a long run India will surely be fully digital country as well corruption free country in the world
      Reply
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        Haradhan Mandal
        Dec 29, 2016 at 7:26 am
        Was there any discussion on LOKPAAL ACT, Independent CBI, on the need to empower CVC? in 2016? or the year before? lt;br/gt;A 100% perfect LOKPAAL BILL was a both the BIG DEBATE and the BIG NEWS 3 year back.We had people (and Saints) THEN, who said that even a 99% perfect LOKPAAL BILL was not acceptable for them. lt;br/gt;We have now a 100% perfect LOKPAAL ACT - that no body in India is afraid of. Because there is no LOKPAAL (Lokayukta in the state) (and INDEPENDENT CBI). lt;br/gt;What we had for 2.5 years is 100% SILENCE from the same the SAINTS and gentlemen.
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          Vihari Naidu
          Dec 29, 2016 at 5:39 am
          Arnab Goswami resigned. That helped a lot by shifting the focus from newsrooms to villages thanks to Ravish Kumar, the only journalist who visited a real village unlike BJP channels like Zee News or NewsX.
          Reply
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            Venkatraman Shenoy
            Dec 29, 2016 at 6:16 am
            Is something wrong with Ms.Shailaja Bajpayi? It is surprising that she has NOT mentioned Arnab Goswami even once! As for national VS anti-nationa, one remembers it was Indian Express that called the then army chief a traitor, accusing him of of a failed coup, of trying to bring India under army rulegt; hat it was a fake news, the first of its kind for the Indian media didn't faze the journos at Express. They went on defending their new status as "pressutes".
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              Vishnu Bhat
              Dec 29, 2016 at 1:53 am
              TV and its news are still not something one watches voluntarily yet!
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                indian
                Dec 29, 2016 at 3:20 am
                How did the author miss mentioning the career move of the TV's 'nation wants to know' ?
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                  Mahender Goriganti
                  Dec 29, 2016 at 6:51 am
                  National Papers like IE made themselves irrelevant but now are crying foul., lt;br/gt;It is the national Media's own doing all along that led to this situation and they still are doing the same kind of paparazzi journalism, selling their own fantasies and political agenda and sinister agendas backed up by sensational fabricated news stories.
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                    Pankaj
                    Dec 29, 2016 at 3:28 am
                    No, it is just that Ornab was on pre-informed leave.
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                      Sitaram
                      Dec 29, 2016 at 6:52 pm
                      Media upsatged by social media where genuine opinion, good or bad, right or wrong has found place. Mainstream media can not muscle opinions anymore.
                      Reply
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                        Sanjay Bhattacharya
                        Dec 29, 2016 at 4:33 pm
                        The writer sees only negatives. Such writer brings no hope, no cheers.
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                          Sandeep Khurana
                          Dec 29, 2016 at 1:22 am
                          Ndtv come back to news...haha Ha...what a joke. As long as barkha n ravish are there. It remains commies n Congress channel
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                            s,s,sharma
                            Dec 29, 2016 at 10:57 am
                            The media,both print and visual ,were on .Govt. succeded inshowing lollypop to them.They kept wagging their tails.Some were givenPadam Awards,others fell in line.It was aBlack Year as far asMedia is concerned.
                            Reply
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