News Media: The End..by Geeta Datta May 26 2020, 5:05 pm Estimated Reading Time: 7 mins, 21 secs
Geeta Datta, programmer and veteran reporter, views news broadcasting from what goes on inside newsrooms and explains why the media is losing its relevance now.
‘There is no information other than politics during COVID-19 times on news channels… ‘
‘Are you telling me that there is no news in the world other than the COVID count of the world... ’
‘So much of negativity, zero information and predictable rising of voices to drown out sensibility… ‘
‘The papers have become too thin and they only carry news of Corona cases these days… ‘
These are voices of near and dear ones who surround me and meanwhile another friend who wants to know the latest about Cyclone Amphan, turns on a particular news channel, which is preferred by viewers who like ‘news without the noise’, as Rajdeep Sardesai puts it. What she finds running on the channel during a catastrophic landfall, which is devastating the lives of millions of people in one part of India is an interview of a Bollywood star.
What all of the above means to me is that people in general have lost faith in news. Most, whom I know closely, don’t even read newspapers any more.
Meanwhile, what is going on inside the news organizations is another story all together, and since I’m a part of this business, I can tell you what the buzz, which I gather from my media colleagues, sounds like these days:
‘There are many people getting laid off, are you aware of it?‘
‘Pay cuts up to fifty percent… ‘
‘I don’t know how long I have a job. What I’m getting to hear is, that the network I’m working for is retrenching because there are no revenues to talk about… ‘
So what I ask myself is this: Why is it that, in times of lockdown when people are trapped inside their homes with hours to kill, when there is a pandemic spreading fast around the world, when people are starved for information; reporters are losing their jobs? Shouldn’t the providers of information be riding this wave of manic media consumption instead? Isn’t it a fact then, that this is the beginning of the end of television news?
Yes the news media is sinking and it is because we are no longer relevant. We have been losing relevance as news reporters and media networks for a long time now; and in these recent days of the Corona pandemic, shit has come to hit the fan. Here below are a few reasons as to why the business is in such a mess:
- Advertising has dried up because business in general has slowed down, so obviously most companies are in a wait and watch mode
- Most media houses, which were already in bad shape before COVID-19 struck have toppled over now
- Many media houses, which had more employees than were necessary because times were good and luxury was affordable, are using COVID-19 as an excuse to restructure and cut costs
Now let’s come to why news has become irrelevant and here I will talk only about television news because that is what my background is. What saddens me as a professional media person is that these are the very times in which moving pictures and audiovisual media should have been a front-runner in reaching facts and information to audiences. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Most news that people are subjected to these days lacks sense, depth and width of coverage. For everyone, and for too many years now, news in India has been one-dimensional and to put it simply, political. There is a lack of coverage of a variety of topics – even within so-called big-ticket newsbreaks.
There is also apathy towards nuanced discussion with experts, who should be at the center of the discussion but on the contrary it is anchors that launch into long drawn out monologues without consideration for their guests who have been specially invited to throw light upon specific subjects.
Therefore over time even panelists who are invited to speak in debates have predictably become the same faces, which you see every evening and they are blatantly introduced as experts by hosts. It is thus no surprise that you hear Anand Ranganathan waxing eloquent on every subject, from health to heist and Sambit Patra shouting down world-renowned economists and defense experts because what they speak clashes with his agenda to mislead.
Programmers, who are the most important cogs in the news-wheel meanwhile, are now habituated to putting calendars on repeat everyday, with a tweak to listings here and there, because they’re uninspired and also demotivated to innovate and/or be ingenious with their work. That is the reason why everything you hear and see looks and feels the same.
News is supposed to be in ‘breaking mode’ - that in a sense the network relaying it should have been the first to have picked it up - but instead programmers are probably the last ones to notice change taking place in the country and obviously then they operate basis clichés; that too, which sadly belong to the 1980’s.
Let us also not forget the compromise, which the media has made with successive governments over the last couple of decades; governments, which have been in power that is – a shameless ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch your back’ approach, that has now pretty much become the norm. And this is what has impacted content across the board.
For the owners of networks, the business plan, which has evolved over time is a heady cocktail that doesn’t require focus on proper unbiased, in-depth, broad based coverage because they can easily get away with pleasing their investors as well as entertaining masses with one stroke. It is either tomfoolery or else sensationalized and dramatized storytelling led by obnoxious anchors, mostly who are clearly and abundantly one sided in their approach. These Anchors, who are big stars in their own right, attract revenues – they magnetize crowds at conclaves and events, which generate content for channels and excite advertisers. Moreover, unleashing a star anchor when pitching to sponsors upon clients helps sales teams to rake in the big bucks.
Instead of allowing reporters to lead coverage, anchors instruct them to take stories in directions that they would like them to go. More often than not, this kind of bulldozing takes narratives further away from the truth instead of bringing viewers closer to it because the intention of the star hosts is to serve political affiliations of their sales teams or bosses. Viewers are the ones cheated here, right?
What reporters end up doing therefore, ironically to excel at their jobs, is to get a few common people commenting about what falls in line with the objectives of their networks. The story eventually that is served to audiences, most often, has nothing to do with what is happening on the ground; it’s not even based on evidence or for that matter, facts.
I have personally experienced situations when a panelist invited as guest for a particular discussion is asked to talk about something other than what he/she has come prepared to say because minutes before the program begins, the topic has changed. So it’s common and you might have witnessed it too, that a health specialist will be found talking about a tanking economy or a gender expert will start explaining climate change concerns to audiences.
After ten to fifteen years of repeatedly doing a job that deflects from the truth, a reporter becomes a sound bite collector. There is a complete disconnect between ground reality and the newsroom anchor’s interpretation of it.
I’ve also personally seen reporters get baffled at what is being broadcast about facts, which they’re the ones who are collecting on the ground; by anchors who’re running live news to their audience. Standing where the reporters are, events are unfolding very differently to the way they are being presented to audiences.
At times an anchor who knows precious little about what he is saying, takes off and leads the story towards a desired place, while the young idealist honest reporter standing at the center of where the action is taking place, is left feeling dejected.
Over years of being subjected to this disregard, reporters start to give up and become mechanical with their coverage. Therefore we can safely say that reporting news in India is dead and that this is the end of the road for news media per se.