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The ‘others’ in news TV

‘Others’: a minefield of a word. Anthropologists,sociologists,cultural studies theorists and,er,others in social science disciplines...

Written by Saubhik Chakrabarti |
May 23, 2009 2:16:28 am

‘Others’: a minefield of a word. Anthropologists,sociologists,cultural studies theorists and,er,others in social science disciplines (minus economists) will tell you that when you define ‘others’ you are essentially demonstrating your value judgment on what constitutes ‘mainstream’. Apparently,in defining ‘others’ you can end up revealing your prejudices and laying bare your relationship with the existing power structure. Unpleasant stuff,clearly,and so much more complicated than the ‘others’ business in news TV,where on election results day,the only problem the category poses is whether to include SUCI in it or append the party’s tally to Trinamul’s.

So,I am acutely mindful of the fact that when I say that this edition of the column will talk about ‘others’ in the news TV business,unpleasant conclusions about my value judgment can be drawn on the evidence of the following paragraphs.

This column talks a lot about NDTV 24×7,CNN-IBN and Times Now. CNBC and NDTV Profit make reasonably frequent appearances. They — English language TV channels,all five — are not the ‘others’. Aaj Tak,a vernacular language channel,has found many mentions — clearly,it’s not in the ‘others’ category either. I put India TV in a category that’s beyond mainstream and ‘others’. A news channel that has a prime time news show called ‘Breaking News’,that has done news stories on ghosts and talked to ‘terrorists’,to mention but a few of its special attributes,deserves a category of its own.

Are all the others in ‘others’? More or less,I think. Yes,I know,this raises questions about my value judgment. Indeed,I find,interrogating myself,but for different reasons.

I am not so worried about my prejudice,as my presumption. Having watched the ‘others’ off and on with the purpose of gathering enough viewing experience to be able to write about them,I am not sure my distinction between the mainstream and ‘others’ is as sharp as I have presumed.

What I mean is that on plain vanilla news reporting over a daily news cycle,the quality of reportage between broadcasters in the two categories is not starkly different. A reporter outside Congress HQ,talking to the news anchor in a mid-afternoon bulletin — you don’t get anything terribly different,irrespective of the channel. There are a few exceptions in the ‘quality’ channels,but very few.

And it’s true that sometimes some of the anchor-reporter chatter on the ‘others’ can be puzzling. On News X,for example. But in general,it would be unfair to say that compared to the ‘others’,NDTV or CNN-IBN or Times Now or Aaj Tak offers spectacular quality differences in terms of daily reportage.

The distinction,I think,comes mainly via news shows — talk TV. In the matter of getting relevant people to sit around a table and anchors guiding a discussion about this,that and the other,the ‘others’ in the news TV business clearly have a lot of catching up to do. Mind you,it is not as if talk TV on ‘mainstream’ broadcasters hasn’t given one moments of pure entertainment.

The interesting issues are (a) whether ‘quality’ channels recognise that in terms of boots-on-the-ground reporting,the quality difference is not large and (b) that they do recognise it but reckon that better quality talk TV is a sufficient differentiator.

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