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Sunday, February 23, 2020

Telescope: Only navel-gazing

Indian TV needs to look out at the world more, be less insular.

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | Updated: February 22, 2018 12:06:42 am
indian tv shows, best tv shows, tv news, indian tv news, indian express news, express column We seem to prefer navel-gazing and bickering amongst ourselves. As Cole Porter once sang, “let’s do it, let’s fall in love” — with the world.

The Americans do it. The Russians do it (fix elections is the wrong answer). The French and the Germans do it. The Chinese and Japanese do it, too. And the Australians do it. Why, even the Singaporeans do it, while the British do it better than anyone else.

But we don’t do it. What’s that? Wait on.

Away from India, far removed from the sound and the fury of our news channels, you experience relief on Day 1 when your blood pressure returns to normal, deafness on Day 2 when you can’t hear anything that doesn’t break the sound barrier, and withdrawal symptoms on Day 3 without your daily “breaking news… exclusive revelations… only on this channel…” of the latest inequities of the usual suspects.

By Day 4, there’s an overpowering, sadomasochistic need to see individuals humiliated by TV news anchors which demands immediate gratification, or else. Ah voila, Fox News — 10 minutes of “Hannity” and you don’t miss your 9 pm fix of “hulla bol” on Indian TV news. He’s the Donald Trump of American TV talk shows and boy oh boy, some of our TV anchors must have taken notes from him and Tucker Carlson and Bret Baier on how to fall in love with the sound of your own voice — and opinions — so much that you don’t let anyone else speak.

They’ve brought tele-evangelism to the newsroom and they use the TV studio as a pulpit. Thus, after last week’s tragic Florida high school shooting, Laura Ingraham delivered a homily on the “twisted killers” and the “power of evil”…”from the womb to the tomb” blaming such massacres on “mental health issues” — not guns — so “if you see someone is lonely, go up to them.” And Sean Hannity advocated “protecting our children” by policing schools with trained, former security personnel. On CNN International, Wolf Blitzer & Co. talked “gun control”, something that didn’t get mentioned much on Fox News and when it did, it sounded like a very dirty word.

On Day 5, your nerves have stop dialling Emergency and you can bear to watch something calmer, less insular. That’s when you notice that there’s more than BBC World or CNN International for a world view. On Indian DTH and cable networks, you do get Al Jazeera, French, German, Australian state-owned international news channels and Channel News Asia from Singapore but in Singapore and the Far East, you also receive the Chinese CGTN (Chinese Global Television Network) and the Japanese NHK.

India, meanwhile, does not offer any international channel other than Zee’s WION. That Doordarshan hasn’t felt the need to spread its influence beyond Indian shores, that Indian private news channels pay no attention to international news unless Prime Minister Narendra Modi is abroad, says something about just how self-obsessed we must be.

The soft power of TV news is good propaganda. CGTN doesn’t hammer home the Chinese point of view; rather, like the Russian channel, RTN, it uses anchors from across the globe to present news and views in objective style news bulletins and shows which cover everything from world news — Washington and Beijing (The World Today) — to business, continent-specific developments (Africa Live) and culture: Speaking Volumes, for instance, discusses books chosen by studio guests — not necessarily Chinese either. On Wednesday, it was the French The Little Prince.

The topics are global too, with a Chinese connection perhaps but not always. Global Business featured Black Panther’s worldwide appeal, and the popularity of the NBA, especially in China. CGTN features foreign experts on debates — the NBA discussion had a marketing guru in Montreal, Canada, while Dialogue, last Thursday, on the value of high-speed trains to an urbanising country, had an Indian academic at New Delhi’s Institute of Chinese Studies, Aravind Yelery.

Obviously, a lot of time is devoted to the wonder that is China — saw a programme on how bridges were built (literally) to link the north and the south of the country — and equally to the US. Frequent updates on the latest Trump tweet, the Mueller investigation, etc receive more space than news from elsewhere and often, there is open criticism of the US President. A Wednesday discussion on US-China nuclear talks, saw both Chinese participants just stop short of questioning Trump’s mental health.

NHK follows a very similar trajectory, covering the world and then slipping a short feature on something like the Ashiu Forest, Kyoto. We also learn more about the neighbourhood: Her Story featured a young Cambodian woman who is the only skateboarder in the country. It was charming.

Beats understanding why India doesn’t launch a charm offensive and an international news channel which looks out at the world and promotes India’s interests and achievements.

We seem to prefer navel-gazing and bickering amongst ourselves. As Cole Porter once sang, “let’s do it, let’s fall in love” — with the world.

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

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