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Thursday, March 04, 2021

Shining the light

Depth,perspective and the curious chiaroscuro of studio backdrops

Written by Saubhik Chakrabarti |
January 17, 2009 12:57:14 am

It is,of course,fairly easy to get distracted while watching TV news — Abhishek Manu Singhvi in endearingly old-fashioned headgear that’s meant to keep the cold out,a finger pressed to his ear to keep the audio feed going,trying valiantly to say different things to basically the same questions from different TV channels on India-Pakistan. Take advantage of this distraction sometime and closely watch news channels’ studios and backdrops.

(Parenthetically,let me observe that the India-Pakistan news flow is often hard to interpret. TV news doesn’t have the luxury of a few hours to digest the small mountain of information that’s being created every day. So it’s tougher for new channels. But given that constraint,why don’t TV journalists,especially anchors,seek clarity rather than take positions? Times Now takes the kabab on this. That’s why ‘India wary of Pakistan’ was breaking news on the channel. Just so other channels don’t think they missed something,that news broke around 1947.)    

Coming back to studios and backdrops,it is true only rarely will you be rewarded with the innocent pleasure that came from watching this CNN-IBN evening news bulletin. As the anchors wound up the bulletin and flagged a special show coming up next on the war preparedness of the Indian armed forces,the backdrop was a giant mug shot of Hillary Clinton. Wow.

I must admit that before the innocent pleasure came a moment of deep self-doubt. Hillary and our jawans — was I missing,have I always missed this significant relationship? But then I saw the anchors bravely trying to talk their way out of the journalistic hole the show’s producers had landed them in,and all was clear. CNN-IBN was definitely not breaking a story on Ms Clinton and the poorly-equipped Indian soldier.

As I warned,these moments are rare. But TV studios and backdrops can be interesting signifiers otherwise,too. What,for example,was one to make of the intense luminosity of the NDTV show that seemed to me to be a We the People minus the people?

The modification improved the show. And the two Pakistani panelists were actually being allowed to talk — a privilege frequently denied to guests from Pakistan on Indian news TV,including NDTV. But the stars of the show were bright beams of light —white,green,saffron — and deep shadows. Everything and everyone looked mysterious,even Singhvi (inside a studio and therefore minus the headgear),who I had already seen on TV that evening.

Generally speaking,just as Indian news TV,including the English language channels,is louder than it should be,backdrops and overall aesthetic arrangements are more striking than they need be. The maroon of Aaj Tak and the red and blue of Times Now pose particularly strong visual challenges. NDTV and CNN-IBN are only marginally less chronically chromatic. Sobriety is abandoned especially in their special shows,as is the case for the rest of news TV.

And the music! It’s all probably stock music anyway,bar the channel signature tunes. But how ‘well’ they use the stock. If you close your eyes and just listen and get confused whether a soap is playing or news,don’t blame yourself.

BBC gets it right on visuals and music. Its world news service signature tune is deservedly famous. But,and more of this in a later column,has the Beeb noticed its world news is becoming flat and probably therefore increasing CNN’s appeal?

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