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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Dark questions on TV news

Since being ‘dark’ in India is so different a social,economic,cultural and historical experience from being black in America and since wanting fair brides for NRI sons...

Written by Saubhik Chakrabarti |
January 24, 2009 12:44:16 am

Since being ‘dark’ in India is so different a social,economic,cultural and historical experience from being black in America and since wanting fair brides for NRI sons is in a separate and distinct category of awfulness from white-on-black racism,only those possessed by a fearless spirit of inquiry can ask whether,post-Obama,the popular narrative on ‘beauty’ will change its complexion in this country. But what is news television if not fearless in discovering premises the more timorous of us don’t know exist. Sometimes we don’t want to know they exist. But that is clearly proof of our timidity.

Obama is president. And news TV is not only going to give us Obamerica but also Obamindia. Thus,on CNN-IBN,with an activist/commentator on Dalit issues,a fashion editor,an art critic and a radio DJ facing the nation,the portentous query: Is black finally beautiful? Twenty five per cent said no in the SMS poll. Clearly,Barack and Michelle have a job to do. We have already had news TV asking can Mayawati be India’s Obama. And now a line has been drawn from President Obama to matrimonial ads in India. I am trying to think fearlessly. What else can be asked? Will tall persons with good law degrees who have prominent ears become politically powerful in India?

Sadly (or thankfully,depending on your point of view) news TV is not always consistent in its fearless spirit of inquiry. Another Obama-inspired Face the Nation on CNN-IBN asked whether the US president can change Muslim politics and perceptions around the world. This was a question that humdrum chaps like me feel less intimidated by. There was,I thought,a reasonably good discussion by news TV standards. I am sort of surprising myself by saying this but NDTV’s attempt to quiz the Slumdog Millionaire creators and cast in a game show format was reasonably good for the first 15 minutes or so. I say this because I experienced a tremor of a familiar fear when the show started with an overhead camera shot showing the anchor and guests seated game show-style. But may be because the show and the anchor abandoned all attempt in the beginning at TV-style deep interrogation,and the guests were all articulate that it was kind of okay to watch.

The show didn’t approach the cross-talking banality that’s typical of talk TV even when the Slumdog “controversies” were broached. Danny Boyle’s straight answers helped. I thought Boyle’s observation that what he saw in Mumbai’s slums was not abject poverty but busy,energetic people out to make a buck was a cue for a potentially fascinating discussion. India’s poor are in large parts a result of policies that are designed to help the poor. The Slumdog context can be used by news TV to talk intelligently about poverty without risking the tag of boring programming and therefore without the risk of putting off its crucial non-poor audience. But of course I am fantasising. If Slumdog gets a clutch of Oscars,media will go manic. If news TV can more or less stick to the standards of the NDTV show we’ll all be grateful.

And I must be careful about advance praise for news channels. Having just last week passed the judgment that CNN’s news coverage was getting sharper than BBC’s,I was confronted this week with CNN’s pedestrian commentary during the Obama inaugural. Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper redefined banal. How do you feel,Cooper asked at one point to some one,watching this peaceful handover of power? A remarkably strange question considering the fact that to the best of anyone’s knowledge,including CNN’s,America has never had a violent regime change. This is one question that Indian news TV will never ask.

Okay that’s another judgment call. But it’s safe. I think.

saubhik.chakrabarti@expressindia.com

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