Monday, December 08, 2008

Masala in the media

Came across an interesting post on Shiva's blog this morning, raising some fairly pertinent questions about the role of the media (in light of the events of November 26th). He wrote:
It gets worse when it gets sensational and stupid. Picture Barkha Dutt walking up to bedsheets hanging from a window in that cursed hotel talking about how people used that as a lifeline, mindlessly repeating the same thing. Where is the homework? Reportage is like my daughters fighting over who is first. Analysis is about supplying verbiage and making people cry. Presentation is intrusive, voyeuristic and worse, narcissistic.
The Thanksgiving weekend was the first time in about five years that I really got hooked to telly signals beamed straight out of India (courtesy CNN-IBN), much to the chagrin of the people around me. Although CNN did carry the Bombay news as its main item, overriding everything else, the choice of experts called in on Wednesday night (EST) was rather poor, with Deepak Chopra and some nondescript bloke (who looked like he had been yanked right out of a club and into the studios, disheveled hair and all) answering Larry King's inane questions, spouting their own weird conspiracy theories. They did have Amit Varma on the show, making it sound like he was in the thick of the action, but sadly Amit "couldn’t offer him any dope there".

Amit was spot-on in his analysis:
....such theories are a consequence of our tendency as a species to want to give gyan. A media pundit, especially, feels compelled to have a narrative for everything. Everything must be explicable, and television expects instant analysis.

This is foolish, for sometimes events are complicated, and we simply need to wait for more information to emerge before we can understand it. But many of us—not just the pundits—don’t have the humility to accept that. We want to feel in control, at least on an intellectual level, so reasons and theories emerge. But the world is really far too complicated for us. Yet somehow we muddle along.

I think this holds true for all the hoopla that played out on Indian telly channels, causing Shiva to write his anguished post.

I'm sure a lot of us followed cricket matches in school, with the radios carefully hidden underneath our desks. In the middle of a dull Hindi lesson, our antennas would detect a sudden surge in the near-mute commentary (I dare say jabber) emanating from the radios (yes, there were about 7 or 8 of them spread all over class) and heads would suddenly drop, to listen to what the excitement was all about. Sad to say, but the Indian radio commentators of the late 80s through the mid-90s were like rough coir compared to the (supposed) silk of AFS "Bobby" Taleyarkhan (I don't think I have ever heard him, but he is unequivocally considered one of the greatest commentators India has produced). The average radio commentator on AIR was more renowned for his shrieks than for substance. I remember reading somewhere (not sure if it was Harsha Bhogle or Richie Benaud) about the real art of radio commentary being in the ability to paint a picture of what was going on, without unnecessary hype and with minimum words. The same applies to television undoubtedly.

In the end, I cannot really blame the media for the way they deal with the news (and report it), since after all it can only be as good as the general audience it caters to, to use a cliched statement. We love our masalas, be it on the 7pm soap or in our 10pm dinner. So what's wrong if it's in the 9 o'clock news?

PS: Usual disclaimers apply!

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