Republic TV—out to decimate the opposition?

BY B P SANJAY| IN Media Practice | 10/05/2017
When the adversarial function of the media is focused on the oppostion, the firepower is grossly disproportionate to their current spheres of influence.
B P SANJAY theorises that a paradigm shift is taking place

 

The journalism of the past believed in  the adversarial function of the media. It was lauded and the ruling polity would say that the coverage of the opposition and their views were disproportionate to their representation or role. However this proposition needs to be re-examined following the launch last week of  Republic TV.

Now the situation is  that the trial of the opposition and their wrong doings is grossly disproportionate to their current spheres of influence. It has created a 360-degree paradigm shift.  While the ruling polity celebrates its successes in elections at all levels, the media equally gloats over its role in the so-called decimation of the opposition. Media trials of the opposition and their wrong doing are now set to be grossly disproportionate to their current spheres of influence.

AR.Nab is back. As they say, the wait is over and was it worth it? Too early to predict.  The media have reported the launch of Republic channel in many different ways. Already, the competitor, Times Now is carrying the crawl, no squatting on a single story.

"The expectation that his new channel would rework its strategy of meaningful journalism is on the face of it belied. "

The apparent reference is to the “we are waiting for you and our reporters will not leave you till you respond” approach that the Channel has adopted with reference to the three stories it is currently chasing: the Mohammad Shahabuddin -Lalu tapes, Kapil Mishra’s  take on AAP and the  Sunanda Pushkar  case. If this trend of squatting on a story continues, then unwittingly, the concept and understanding of a news channel need alteration. Such squatting makes the agenda more explicit and viewers switch off with a feeling of who cares. Recall what has actually happened to the likes of Vijay Mallya and Lalit Modi. The media trial is fast and furious even as the rich and the famous work through the maze of systems and continue to enjoy their invincible power.

Curiosity apart the big bang arrival of the Channel was an expectation that the cooling off period was introspection time for Arnab Goswami  and his brand of Newshour practices that peaked and claimed high TRPs. This had slowly waned. There was a broad spectrum and cynical critique of the phrase ‘the nation wants to know’.  The expectation that his new channel would rework its strategy of meaningful journalism is on the face of it belied. I Viewing the channel  so far suggests  that it  is moving on a target-oriented coverage.  It intends to put its team 24x7 on the job till it ferrets out its version of the truth. That in the interim, Times Now tried hard to sustain Arnab’s aggression along with other competitors reworking their strategy,  speaks volumes of the so-called inevitability of   competition for advertising. 

The inclination media watchers have to write obits for the print media may have to be stemmed if the chasing  syndrome continues with aggressive anchors and equally overenthusiastic panelists wanting to endorse the anchor even before he complete the question.

There was a marked phase in the history of Indian journalism-nationalism. This was equated with the influence of certain sections of the print media that contributed to the struggle towards our Independence. The ubiquitous role of the Editor along with the editorial and reporting team contributed towards the process through extensive coverage of the various issues and concerns. Its transition into the post-Independence era meant that in the process of nation building there were many challenges that required the profession to keep an eye on aberrant practices of the Establishment. A radical departure from erstwhile institutional and professional practices in the media sector, particularly, post liberalization meant that news anchors/journalists and panelists would engage in debates with a brief introductory snippet of the footage. However,the (un) intended consequence was the framework that unfolded of the revised role of the media with regard to the priorities. Nationalism and patriotism supersede the range and variety of critical aspects of the debates.  Semioticians will find it hard to unravel what more is hidden with regard to the tone and tenor of the discussion. In the process, the viewer is left with a little choice where even channel surfing does not help as the panelists seem to hop faster to the next channel even before the button is pressed.  As they say, the regulars now have one more channel to hop to, and splurge their expertise.

The rest of the country wants to know, AR.Nab and others, whether there is any life beyond Delhi’s Lutyens that you wish to chase. Chase the MLAs who do not give up their jaunts, leaders who do not remove their beacons, arrogant VIPs who misbehave in airports and aircraft. Oh yes, the vow is to end the VIP culture, and the process revulsion sets in both with regard to the polity and the media.

"An opportunity is getting lost if in a country with nearly 400 news channels the cloning, chasing and now squatting mentality becomes the professional norm."

TRPs may give a false sense of security and cushion but they are no indication that what is being put out is what the viewers want. An opportunity is getting lost if in a country with nearly 400 news channels the cloning, chasing and now squatting mentality becomes the professional norm. If we all think that what the channels give is only news, we too are to be blamed because of our apathy towards more serious and engaging issues that the channels think no longer interests us. Available and published statistics on many fronts reveal gaps with regard to policies and programs. “Newstainment” is what we have gone through.  If prime time news is no different from soap operas where even after years you can watch it and understand the plot, we have lost a democratic privilege of the media expanding our public sphere.  It is poverty amidst plenty.

It is time for the media to introspect on how much cleansing they have done through their stories.  We may return to newspapers for at least in the 16 or 20 pages they offer some variety. Of late, a few newspapers are offering refreshing perspectives on art, archaeology and other issues. It may limit itself to the literate sections that fortunately is growing. If the fatigue sets in among the viewers then despite tall claims of television media’s independence, their offerings  buoyed by deep pockets may not occupy the viewers’ minds.  

 

B P Sanjay teaches communication at the University of Hyderabad.

 

 

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