TV Debates : A New Daily Soap

by May 31, 2019 0 comments


Cong will have to take the values it holds dear like those of equality, fighting violence with reason and scientific temper to the people and convince them by action

The performance of the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections was extremely disappointing and it is important for a responsible political party like it to accept the verdict of the people with humility. It is also important for the party to understand the pulse of the nation better and showcase itself as a more viable alternative to the BJP. Perhaps most importantly, however, it is important for the party to highlight that the battle between the Congress and the BJP  is not one of mere political power but one of ideology.

This ideological battle is often depicted as a fight on TV screens broadcast by news channels. In the past five years, this ideological battle has been depicted as a sensational fight. The sequence of events typically follow the described course: An outrageous statement by a BJP leader like Sadhvi Pragya (about Godse being a deshbhakt) followed by TV channels with a room full of pundits lending their expertise, either admonishing the outrageous statement or finding some sympathy for it. This descends into a shouting match between the two sides, further fuelled by TV anchors who have realised that this is the easy way to capture the attention of the public. I will admit, the Congress and other Opposition parties have often fallen into this trap that only helps  TV channels. The reality, however, is that first, the Congress’ ideological battle with the BJP cannot be won in the privilege of air-conditioned TV rooms but will instead be tested over time on the ground. Second, to reduce this ideological battle to a “debate” over statements of agent provocateurs does India and its citizens no service. Instead the Congress will have to now take the values it holds dear like those of equality, fighting violence with reason and scientific temper to the people of the country and convince them by action rather than TV rhetoric. So what happens to these TV channels and what will become of these inflammatory debates?

In this backdrop, I have to say that I am extremely pleased that the Congress has decided that it will send no spokespersons for TV debates. While this position appears to be limited to the next month, I would welcome sticking to this stand for the next five years. This is because news channels now resemble soap operas where TV anchors have pre-decided the plots and sub-plots. Where if the debate appears to be dying, some will ensure that the masala remains till the end. Of course, I don’t mean to paint all TV news media and all anchors with the same brush. But you know who you are and more importantly, every reader of this article has a few of them who spring to mind. I am, therefore, happy that the Congress will do its part to prevent this embarrassing practice from continuing.

I remember there was a time when media houses and TV news channels engaged in genuine investigative journalism. They would raise questions and go where their investigation led them. News channels were led by the aim of fulfilling their role as journalists and earned viewership through dedicated research and brave questions. Has that time gone? An examination of the past few years does seem to suggest so. If not, what explains the unbelievable lack of focus on issues that the country is actually grappling with?

In Jharkhand, for example, why are media houses not raising questions about the huge number of starvation deaths and the failures of the state government that has led to these deaths? Why are there no debates about how the land of tribals in Jharkhand is being taken away from them without any form of rehabilitation? At the national stage too, why have our news channels not raised questions about the intelligence failure that led to the death of our brave soldiers in Pulwama? How did such a massive attack occur and why haven’t we been provided any answers by the government?

Who is supposed to ask these questions? Yes, the Opposition must, as the Congress did over the past few years. But what happened when these questions were raised? Spokespersons were brought on debates where the topic would inevitably be framed along the following lines: “Is the Opposition anti-national for questioning the government at this time?”

Once the debate has been framed in the manner detailed above, the discussion on TV is no longer a discussion or debate about how we can improve our intelligence infrastructure or how do we prevent our soldiers from dying in the future. Instead the debate is now: Is the Opposition anti-national or not? What a tragedy.

It is no coincidence then that the only real investigative journalism we have seen in the past few years has been through print media outlets. This is because the nature of print journalism restricts it from doing what TV channels do. Turning important issues that require examination and questioning of authorities to shouting matches and sensational headlines.

So I welcome seeing how our TV news channels will react. As the government in power with clear majority for what will be 10 years in 2024, PM Modi will have no excuses. They will have to answer questions about a failing economy and how they plan to revive it. They will have to answer questions about why there are no jobs for India’s youth. They will have to answer questions about why certain Indians feel targeted due to their religion and caste as the events of the past week have shown.

Without a shouting match between the Opposition and the government, TV anchors will now have to face representatives from the BJP government and have to look at the actual work that has been done and what the numbers on the ground are. Their TRPs will then depend on how they question the government and whether they can get the government to answer questions the government may not want to answer. Let’s see if these news channels are up to the task: The nation wants to know.

(The author is president of Jharkhand Pradesh Congress Committee)

Writer: Ajoy Kumar

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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