In other words: once upon a simple time, News!!! used to be plain, common, possibly boring, but certainly unadorned: news. On one channel, if we were lucky enough not to be interrupted by power cuts at a drop of rain. And now? Move over soap operas. Here comes the news.
Last weekend, a concerned Indian public spent breathless hours - over two whole days - in front of the idjit box, gazing fearfully at the sight of a little boy trapped in a 60 foot well. Without seeking accountability from the contractor(s) for gross negligence, the (un’countable) news channels jostled with each other to provide us a whimper by whimper account of Prince’s trauma. While no one is denying the fear and hope of the situation - and the classic plot of a feel-good ‘human interest’ story when Prince was finally rescued - did we (and Prince) have to be submitted to the indignities of sensational media coverage?
As Murali Krishnan asks:
Wasn’t the coverage disproportionate to the event in this vast billion-plus nation where 25 violent crimes take place every hour, 59 housewives commit suicide every day, and where two rapes, four murders, 10 culpable homicides and one dowry death occurs on an hourly basis? Wasn’t this publicity lopsided? Didn’t channels go over the top?
Couldn’t have put it more succintly if I tried. Over the top? They went over the top and down a very, very slippery slope. Frankly, I wouldn’t be bothered if I didn’t realise that not everyone switches the soapy box off and retreats to her/his corner with a couple of newspapers (and/or the laptop!), possibly incorporating - all things crossed - some worthwhile writing and analysis. Paul Danahar of the BBC admits that between the sensationalism and the more experienced TV/other journalists, it would not matter “if it was not for that fact that the TV news channels are now setting the standards for the whole industry.”
What standards? That you might be a so-called ‘expert’ in some issue, but you have to smile stoically at some TV anchor who won’t let you finish a sentence, let alone a thought, and will spend most of the airtime telling you what s/he thinks you should feel. And should say in 5 seconds before s/he interrupts you again.
At this rate, I’m not sure the electronic media has much to worry about re the new Broadcasting Services Regulation Bill being proposed by our benevolent government. In fact, considering it ‘leaked out’ to an otherwise un-consulted media, the Bill, if passed, could make sure that such ‘objectionable’ activities as sting operations on politicians are a fling of the past. With strong opposition from the media industry, however, the Bill’s unlikely to be introduced in the monsoon session of the Parliament, which began on Monday amidst squalls, thunder storms and walk-outs.
Forget it. I’m going to watch the monsoons on my own, s-l-o-w-l-y, leaf over leaf over shimmering, glimmering leaf. And the breathlessness will be poetry-inspired, not pixel-induced.