Progressive degeneration of the quality of primetime news being served on television has been a source of frustration for many like me who follow the genre closely. Till about a decade ago, Hindi news channels were associated with this degeneration theme. The famous cow-UFO story on India TV became the poster image of how Hindi news channels have made a mockery of what news should stand for.
Over the last few years, this degenerative mindset has seeped into the English news genre. No, there are no stories of UFO pulling in cows. It’s within the mainstream news that we are seeing deterioration of the quality of coverage. And that makes it even more dangerous. Because you are evidently not supposed to take a cow-UFO story seriously. But how do we ensure that the balderdash being currently served in the name of news is not taken seriously by millions of unsuspecting viewers, who may just choose to believe what they see?
Yet another symptom of this ever-growing concern was evident earlier this week in Republic TV’s coverage of Dalit leader JigneshMevani’s rally in Delhi. The coverage through the day, and then in Arnab Goswami’s debate show, was unequivocal in its extreme position on the rally, calling it a super flop, and calling those present there “goons” and “thugs”. The rally’s coverage was carried under the channel’s latest “initiative” – To call out the bluff of what they call the ‘TukdeTukde Gang’. But that’s even not the real issue of the day.
A female reporter from the channel (Shivani) tried to get bytes from Mevani’s supporters, and some of them apparently “misbehaved” with her, which means telling her and her male colleague that they will not allow Republic TV to cover the rally, and making some “lewd gestures”, like a man seeming to stick out his tongue in mockery. There was no physical contact or sexual comments passed.
But that didn’t stop Goswami from almost making this out to be a case of sexual assault, repeatedly playing on the gender of his reporter. But wait, even that’s not the real issue here.
To dramatise the story, Goswami decide to mark out the goons, by putting a red circle around their face, calling them names and asking for their arrest. 3-4 in the crowd were thus marked out as Mevani’s goons. Goswami proclaimed: “Tonight, I will put out videos circling the pictures of the vulgar thugs who tried to intimidate Shivani and failed.”
Next morning, it emerged that one of these “vulgar thugs” was, in fact, an ABP News supporter Jainendra Kumar, who was there covering the same story, and had, in fact, come to that part of the gathering to help his friend and fellow journalist Shivani out.
ABP News demanded an apology, and even took the demand for apology on air, and rightly so too. An apology came the next day at primetime. But it was not a spoken apology by Goswami. It was a “written” apology on TV! A text-and-VO piece that ran between the two debates, which is just the time when most viewers switch channels. And the apology was in two parts. The first part mentioned the error and apologised, and the second part lauded the Republic TV journalist for her bravery.
In this particular case, Republic TV just got unlucky, that one of the randomly marked-out people turned out to be a scribe. One can’t rule out the “marking out” of unsuspecting and innocent common men and women in many stories of this tone and tenor in the past. In fact, one of the other people marked out in this Republic story was a man who had nothing to do with Mevani. His wife, a columnist for a news website, called out Goswami in an article the next morning.
Thelarger point here is on the brazen violation of basic journalistic norms. It’s a style that Goswami has championed, and continues to practice, more aggressively now than ever before.
But to call out him alone will not be fair. His style of journalism has been apedby almost every English news channels, and quite a few in other languages too. And by choosing to do that, they become party to this process of degeneration of journalistic standards.
Many argue that not watching news, or certain channels at least, is the way out. But that would be like putting your head in the sand like an ostrich. Unless there’s a mass boycott movement, which is as improbable as a humble spoken apology from Goswami, a few individual boycotts don’t serve any real purpose.
So, watch we must, and express we must. Even if it is with a deep sense of anguish. Because we live in the times of the Internet and the social media, where sometimes, just one tweet or one blogpost can open up possibilities of a larger change.
This post first appeared on MXMIndia on my weekly column.