Let’s take stock of what the news channels in India comprise. Breaking news. Yes. News on politics, entertainment, sports, society. Yes. Brilliant news formats. Yes. Good programming. Yes. Holistic debates. Yes. Masses’ participation. Yes. Around the world news? Hum, haw! Somehow, most of the time that’s missing. Reports from other parts of the world are scant, barring those from the US, UK and parts of Asia, most of which have some Indian flavour or some link to the country.
On the other hand, instances of most of the ‘known’ international news channels like the CNN and BBC, and the Press in other parts of India, quoting Indian news channels are few and far between. Even then, there is only an India connect. The most recent report in the BBC on India was about how the media here highlighted political reactions over British PM David Cameron ordering a probe after Labour MP Tom Watson told the BBC he had seen declassified documents on the alleged involvement of then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in authorizing Special Air Services to collude with the Indian government in storming the Golden Temple in 1984. The other ‘Indian’ news that hogged international limelight in recent times was the brutal Delhi gang rape last year.
Back in 2005, Daya Kishan Thussu, the first professor of Indian origin in the field of media and cultural studies in any British university, had lamented that “despite access to information from a wide variety of sources and heavy investment in the news sector as well as a more liberal regulatory environment, the news networks tend to go for what I may call the three Cs - celebrities, criminals and cricket”.
Not much has changed since then. Even political news in the channels have elements of showmanship akin to the GEC channels. Since news went into the 24-hour format, it has seemingly turned into nothing else but entertainment in the garb of television journalism. Salil Desai, a Pune-based author and film-maker, likens the format to proxy advertising. “That would explain a lot — propaganda style reporting, sensational shows, gladiatorial panel discussions, adrenalin pumping hyperbole, distortion of facts, etc, etc,” Desai says in his column in the DNA.
The other question: Given the format, don’t channels have the time to systematically focus on every part of the world? Should they not, like CNN, and now al-Jazeera, rise beyond the eyeballs game and consider dissemination of information more holistically, given the power of reach they have? It’s not that they don’t have enough feed from across the world – most news channels subscribe to audiovisual feed from world news agencies like Associated Press, Reuters, Fox News, among others. Why is it that news means only news from select places across the globe? News channels must understand thehunger for information more closely.
They must understand that as the world shrinks, and as their viewers look for newer opportunities, geographical boundaries notwithstanding, their picks from the rest of the world have to be more well-rounded and without any bias; and certainly not driven by the TRP battle. The channels must consider that as the craving for information in this IT age goes up, so does the craving for news. Information has become staple to our lives -- we are constantly looking forward to hearing about the rest of the world, along with what’s going on within the country. As the world becomes a global village, we find more and more things actually affect us, if not immediately then in the distant future.
Good or bad news, we all find ourselves being affected. Imagine if news of the Lehman Brothers’ downfall did not reach us. Imagine if the Westgate Mall siege in Nairobi was not covered in the Indian Press. We would not have known why the job market shrunk after a glorious and happy period before the downfall. We would not have known that three Indians, including a child, were among those dead in the siege.
One may ask, what’s the argument then? Such coverage proves that the rest of the world is indeed covered by Indian news channels. Of course, Indian TV news channels report from wherever possible about disasters, accidents, tragedies, terror strikes, scandals, scams and other shocking news. But seldom do we find reports of successes from developing countries, like the turning point being orchestrated in African agriculture, the continent close to, as McKinsey reports, a long-awaited ‘green revolution’. There are scant reports in the Indian electronic media of how African governments are adopting market-friendly policies and allocating more resources to the sector. There are hardly any stories about how the continent is drumming up private support, how strategy is being closely followed by clear-cut policies for implementation, and how initiatives are resulting in impactful success stories.
To be fair to the Indian Print media, it does report on such issues, although in limited measure. As for their absence from news channels, one is tempted to ask why in place of high-strung debates - that often end up as mere shouting matches sans final analysis or outcome - can stories of success from remoter parts of the world not find place?
Indian journalism has often been eulogized for being most polished, developed and insightful; perhaps the primary reason for that is we have the world’s largest and most vigorous democracy. Nonetheless, news channels must understand that now the audience too is aware of the perils of consumerism driven by ratings and circulation battles. They must recognize that they cannot afford to sustain themselves by being just mouthpieces of the government, political parties or a corporate entity. The news channels must develop a fabric of their own to be able to report, reach out to, and speak about people and nations beyond the ones they do today, in detail. What works most for them in this regard is that India is well-versed in English - the single language most of the world embraces. It’s just one step ahead for news channels here to become truly international entities – by including more of the people and nations across the globe and allocating enough time to reporting about them.