Dipped in Witriol
It sure was an extraordinary meeting of the League of news TV ladies and gentlemen. They were all there -- packed into the conference hall of a five-star hotel in Delhi. Outside the venue there was heightened security to ensure that no intruder got in and not even an alphabet spoken inside made its way outside. Incidentally, the chief of security (a retired Major who never saw a war but watched action movies) made it a point to put on record that it was common knowledge that the English language that would be employed by the speakers and suitably amplified had no more than 26 alphabets. His burden: If an A or a D, or for that matter, an X or a Y, sneaked out it could cause no harm.
Anyway, that apart, those who had been invited to the gathering had come suitably disguised -- Rajdeep Sardesai tried to pass off as Arnab Goswami whose makeup man had transformed him into a stockily built Tamil news anchor. Poor Arnab! Being seriously Tamil–challenged, the only word from the Dravidian language he could commit to his memory was Vanakkom (greetings, welcome) which he pronounced as “wanna come” raising a few high brows. And, yes, Barkha Dutt was so Sagarika Ghose and vice versa that one didn’t know where the buck stopped and who faced the nation. There were several others rather cleverly disguised and one TV anchor we see here, there, and everywhere who thought wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “I’m Not Me” was as good as going to any makeup man.
Anyway, the meeting was called to order with an electronic drum roll, crash of cymbals, and the sound of bagpipes. The speaker, who everyone had been waiting for, strode up to the podium to genuine and canned applause. He was the original TV guru — the man who started it all. And today he was dressed to kill in a kilt and had donned a long flowing wig and John Lennon glasses to supplement his beard. He needed no introduction and got down to business without much ado. Here is what he told his audience:
“Let me begin with a Shakespearean flourish. Friends, newsreaders, and anchors, I came here to revive TV news, not to bury it. So, after that rather brief touch of the good and the bard, allow me to put it on record that it was the holy man, Swami TRP Ananda, who sits in a cave -- fashioned out of the bedroom of his Vasant Vihar bungalow -- who observed that nothing should be exclusive, and if it is, it should belong to one and all. What made him reach this enlightened conclusion was the series of recent interviews that he saw with President-elect Pranab Mukherjee (who has now been sworn in). Each channel claimed it had an exclusive, and the Swamiji felt it was simply a waste of resources and came up with the one-interview- exclusive-to-all-channels formula. Well, I know many in this audience will be already worried that if this is implemented it would severely impact their individuality and rob them of a byline. Let me assure them it will not.
That’s because what I and the Swamiji have in mind is a scenario where the interviewer never appears on the screen and is just a voice. To give you an example — say, Barkha interviews Pranab Mukherjee who tells her, among other things, about how he had to swim to school since the roads in his village in Birbhum district in Bengal were flooded every monsoon. Now, imagine the footage of the interview goes to Times Now and Arnab or some other anchor rephrases the questions and presto, you have a Times Now exclusive! So would Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, or for that matter any news channel. This your-exclusive-is- my-exclusive is something that we TV wallahas have to learn to live with to save money and time. Remember, unlike our brothers in print, we do not have the luxury of rehashing news agency copy and passing it off as our own. We, unfortunately, need footage to back each story. And that involves sending out a crew.
Anyway, coming back to the Pranab Mukherjee exclusives, those who keep track of news channels would have noticed that the questions asked and the answers given by Pranabda across all Angrezi news channels were the same. So, think of the resources wasted in repeatedly recording, what was, more or less the same questions and the same responses. At this point I must once again acknowledge my indebtedness to Swami TRP for keeping track of the various channels. His holiness is a committed surfer (he prefers the waters off Hawaii to Malibu in California) and is equally committed to the surfboard as the remote. Anyway, his dedication to the viewer has thrown up several insights, including the shape of exclusives to come, which I have shared with you.
Coming to breaking news, the Swamiji feels that in this age of paid news this label must be abolished. He fears that with the mushrooming of news channels the day is not far when sunrise will be passed off as “breaking.” Well, I quite agree with his holiness and welcome his suggestion that we must think out of the idiot box and have a segment at the beginning of each bulletin called “brokering news” which will feature the latest paid news. Friends, let’s be realistic, with unpaid information space likely to shrink in the days to come, brokering news is a reality we must accept. It is a flag we must fly -- be it reviews, filmy news, or political gup-shup. Remember a plant has to be tended to, nurtured, and allowed to blossom. Then its leaves, through fiscal-synthesis, will literally provide valuable currency -- the oxygen -- for our news. So friends, don’t be ashamed of brokering.
Also, Swamiji, who believes that honesty in things we can be honest about makes up for dishonesty in other areas, feels that it is time we scrapped the first-seen-on- my-channel concept. According to him any image captured on camera must have been seen at least by the cameraperson and perhaps by hundreds of others. So, we must be truthful. His holiness believes we must come clean and admit that every image shown has been seen by several other people. A standard line, like the one run on cigarette packs that smoking is injurious to health, should be scrolled on all news channels.
Finally, friends, newsreaders, and anchors, before I take your leave let me raise a buttered toast to the great future that awaits us: a future when our media wonderland will flow with news and money as we share the spoils of brokered news; a future where growth is inclusive and every exclusive becomes universal. ..
Jai TV journo! Jai Swami TRP!