‘Good morning and welcome to the 6 am news bulletin which, by the way, has no news so you might as well go back to sleep’. That should be the announcement for All India Radio’s morning news bulletins in Hindi and English. Look at what the Christmas Day bulletin had to offer:
These stories took up about 90 per cent of the bulletin. The remaining time in the English bulletin was devoted to defence research, Christmas celebrations and cricket. Hardly anything you could call hard news.
The next news bulletin at 7 am repeated the same news, except that it thankfully included some news relating to the help being given to tendu leaf collectors in Odisha. A music programme followed which was interrupted to include an announcement about Mann Ki Baat – yes, yet again, just in case you hadn’t heard the other alerts - in even greater detail.
The special 7.30 mixed news bulletin titled Aaj Savere again led with Mann Ki Baat, the lucky draw, and the good governance campaign on Vajpayee’s birthday. Mercifully, however, it also included important news on Israel and Palestine.
The metro news followed which was dominated by black money raids and the cashless economy drive and this was livened up with a personal touch - the newsreader telling the audience that demonetization has been the pinnacle of the Clean India campaign!
This metro news bulletin, by the way, is supposed to include some light hearted news but what listeners got on Christmas Day was a story about a fat wife, a virtual girl friend and a billionaire in search of a heir, all accompanied by raucous music. The bulletin ended with a poem written and read by former Prime Minister Vajpayee, this being, as you already know, his birthday.
The 8 am bulletins in English and Hindi? More of the same. The only differences were an item about a conference of the student wing of the BJP; statements lavishing praise on demonetization; and public interest ads on black money. International news was confined to Israel. Christmas celebrations and sports news took up the remaining time in the bulletin. Then more ads on the cashless economy etc., etc. This bulletin also gave a selection of news and comments from the newspapers. Oddly enough, the only ones selected were in support of the government.
For early risers who want to get the latest news, these morning bulletins on AIR are weak and watery compared with the lively and diverse selection of news and opinions in the newspapers. Apart from including critical statements on demonetization from opposition leaders, the papers offer detailed field reports about the adverse impact the drive has had on specific sections such as leather workers and artisans (The Indian Express) or second hand cloth dealers (The Times of India).
These are well researched reports but do they get even a cursory mention in AIR’s bulletins when the newspapers are discussed? Do any of the important events in the world which are covered by the newspapers get a passing nod in AIR’s bulletins? No. AIR has capable news readers and editors but their talents cannot be harnessed to produce desirable results because of the preoccupation with the government’s pet themes.
If AIR’s aim is to present well-balanced and comprehensive morning bulletins for Indians who are keen to get their first news fix of the day, it is failing. It needs to get cracking on improving the morning news.
NB: The morning bulletins quoted in this article were broadcast from 6.00 a.m. to 8.30 a.m. on FM Gold, including three Hindi bulletins, two English bulletins and one mixed Hindi-English bulletin.
Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has frequently participated in AIR news programmes in recent years.