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Monday, October 25, 2021

My pseudo-elitist fantasy

Next Saturday,thanks to the people of India,TV news will be compelling viewing,even allowing for the anchor/panelist...

Written by Saubhik Chakrabarti |
May 9, 2009 1:40:45 am

Next Saturday,thanks to the people of India,TV news will be compelling viewing,even allowing for the anchor/panelist chatter that will mingle with election results announcements. All these weeks,of course,election TV was rarely compelling viewing. But a bit of it could have been. CNN-IBN,however,having thought big decided to execute it very small.

Election Katha,CNN-IBN’s Ram Guha-anchored series,was delivered in a form akin to infomercials. A quick opening montage,a quick analysis from Guha backed by another quick montage — and it’s over. True,by news TV standards,these snippets were well edited,and Guha of course was very convincing. But that just reinforces my question: Having got an articulate,currently media-feted,inventive historian/commentator to anchor a programme on election history,why reduce the idea to a few minutes broadcast of factoids?

TV can be wonderfully exploited as a medium for serious/interesting narrative. My personal favourite is JK Galbraith’s The Age of Uncertainty made for BBC. The book that came out of the series isn’t half as good. In fact,Niall Ferguson’s TV series Ascent of Money for Channel 4 is better than his book (it’s harder to hide rushed arguments in a book,and few have the authorial capacity to make writing about interesting places more engaging than its well-produced audio-visual counterpart).

I mention Galbraith and Ferguson because they are brand name Anglo-Saxon public intellectuals (I will ignore,for present purposes,all the entertaining controversy about how you define an intellectual) whose works are familiar to Indians. That makes my case easier to make: We have in Ram Guha,and a few others,intellectuals who can marry rigour and storytelling for long format substantive TV.

There are perhaps just two news channels that may possess the imagination to consider this. I don’t know why one of them did what it did with the idea. Was there an apprehension that there’s no viewership for,let’s say,a six-part series on the history of India’s elections,with Guha as the anchor,with a central,provocative theme and with location shooting? I can’t believe the largely middle/upper middle class audience for English news would have overwhelmingly found such a concept hard-to-watch. Or was it that costs were a factor. If they were,my quibble ends here; these are,as they are telling you,not easy times.

But if costs were not the killer constraint,or when the cost constraint eases,and suitable news contexts appear,will the better section of news TV attempt something like this?

The argument that BBC’s or Channel 4’s or French TV’s — as you would imagine,in France intellectuals are stars even on television — expertise in mounting such programmes is of a much higher order is not a clinching one. First,as wise men say,the good need not be the enemy of the perfect. Second,to the extent that ideation and research will be driven by the anchor/intellectual,news TV’s usual in-house extravagantly liberal interpretation of what constitutes intelligent content will not be a problem. Third,I am sure,broadcast journalism will be better for the experience.

If all of this comes across as pseudo-elitist fantasy to some I make no apologies. I have had to watch too much of pulse-of-the-people broadcast journalism last few weeks — CNN-IBN asking mothers who have lost their daughters whether they voted is a typical example; another: Times Now broadcasting an election programme christened ‘The Political Juice’.

I need my pseudo-elitist fantasy.

saubhik.chakrabarti@expressindia.com

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