Those of us growing up in the pre-liberalization India have been witness to biased and government approved (and sponsored) news being promulgated by our dear old Doordarshan. In the name of news reporting, they acted as “His Master’s Voice” (due apologies to the erstwhile music company HMV – the dog in their logo was absolutely cute!), disseminating government propaganda which was so biased in favour of the government in power. The news was read monotonously, usually by news readers who on the best of days looked constipated. Though there were some gems even among this lot (Tajeshwar Singh, Komal G B Singh, Shammi Narang, Nirmala Mathan, etc. among them), they were as rare as unbiased news on our DD. National newspapers used to be our only resort for acceptably unbiased news on anything official in India then – but even they had to be very careful in their coverage, since any adverse news criticizing the government and things would turn hot under the collar for their owners. Despite the then prevalent and near-draconian laws, there were still some brave journalists (and supporting editors) around who would bravely stick their necks out to give the reading public a glimpse of the rot that was widespread in our system.
There came the wave of liberalization in the 90s, which swept wary Indians in a tsunami of our own version of glasnost, and brought into our country thingamajigs that so far were only available in the illegal world of India’s black-market. We suddenly started seeing in local stores items which so far only relatives based in foreign shores condescendingly got for us while on their “annual va-cay-tions to India”. It was as if a Pandora’s Box had been opened for us Indians to pick and choose from. We now had access to chocolates, perfumes, liquor, FMCG goods and all things that were surreptitiously smuggled into our country earlier. Along with all this, along came the plethora of news and entertainment channels. Where we were earlier entertained by “Humlog” and “Buniyaad” (both very good shows), we now had access to some ridiculously asinine and a few brilliantly produced American TV shows (albeit a few months or years after their original telecast date). Where we had to contend with Films Division documentaries earlier, we could now watch exciting wildlife shows with world-class photography and exceptional production values. Our Doordarshan news gave way to multifarious news channels spewing not just local content, but also unbiased news and information from around the world. For the first time we had news content that was not regulated by the government. We received information on the happenings from across India, with news reporters risking life and limb to reach inaccessible and inhospitable locations to bring us fresh content. These news journalists became our new superheroes (and heroines) and life could not have been better for us Indians. We lapped it all up, and kept looking for more. The entertainment channels, whose numbers kept going up, kept churning out one ridiculous serial after serial, each competing with the other in terms of ludicrousness and stupidity. The news channels sphere further expanded with local language content also being made available to viewers in the remotest corner of India. In this Utopian state, all of us Indians should have been in a happy state… but unfortunately it has not been so. As Bob Dylan so soulfully sang – “Times They Are A-Changing”. I never thought that I would ever say this – looking at the shape of today’s TV news channels, I miss the good ole days of Doordarshan!!!
The condition of India’s news channels today are debatably asinine. They now plumb the depths of an ocean which even the world’s strongest swimmer would not attempt to cross. Mud-slinging, paid and manufactured news, washing dirty linen in public, biased reporting, slanging matches in the form of debates… anything goes today in the name of “breaking news”. All this with the justification that this is what the “nation wants to know”! What can be more ridiculous than the fact that Indrani Mukherjee and the shenanigans within her family was given more importance on national television on the day life-threatening floods hit the North-East of India! The Hindi news channels even went to the infantile level of repeating what Indrani had for lunch in jail, rather than focussing on the Indian lives lost in the unfortunate deluge. Similarly, the focus on the ill-fated Paris terrorist attack warranted more news time than the calamitous flood in our own Chennai! The acquittal of a serial offender like Salman Khan garners more news time than the living conditions of the affected families. The focus is more on the prodigal mother-son duo’s appearance in court for a private legal matter, rather than on ruckus created by their party members to prevent important bills from being passed in Parliament. Each allegedly “independent” news channel is now openly owned either by a politician or by some secretive foreign agency, who have their own private agenda to promote and their own news to portray. With DD we were at least assured that news was sheer propaganda, but with this new lot we now have the proverbial wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing! I am in no way downplaying the seriousness of news report, but somewhere our news channels seem to have lost the plot and now have priorities which have gone way off the radar. Unfortunately, the once trust-worthy newspapers, even with no new arrivals in this field, have taken the “nation wants to know” route to infamy. Most newspapers today are just colourful pages filled with advertisements, interspersed with miniscule news items.
By contemplating on why we have reached this abominable stage, I have realized that this so-called “nation wanting to know” in reality is our own baser need of playing voyeur and sensationalizing everything. Most of us get animalist pleasure in seeing the rich and mighty getting bested, while ignoring the suffering of fellow-beings. As long as we do not purge this drivel from within us, this situation is not likely to change. Till we as a nation do not stop “wanting to know” and stop being consumers, these purveyors will, in the guise of news and entertainment, continue to shovel garbage into our lives! Time to clear the cobwebs of the mind…