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WHAT HO!

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January 22, 2013

Why I don’t watch news on television

Media and Information

I stopped watching news on TV more than five years ago. I’ve tuned in only on rare occasions, like during elections or recently when the India Gate protests raged. I can count the number of these occasions. By and large, I’d rather have root canal surgery than watch television news. Here’s why.

The media plays at least 3 roles in a democratic society.

1. To inform.

It’s the job of the media to keep us informed of the facts. To be perfectly honest, I don’t watch TV to find out what Rajdeep Sardesai’s or Barkha Dutt’s opinions are. I could definitely do without Arnab Goswami’s histrionics. None of these “anchors” have expert training in economics or public policy or defense or anything else for that matter. They are (I believe) trained journalists and were hired to play the role of skilled interviewers. I’d prefer if they kept their opinions to themselves. I’d like them to tell me the facts, please. Then, I’d like to hear what experts have to say on the matter. And by experts, I don’t mean mouthpieces of political parties or former editors of semi-porn magazines or activist Bollywood actors or self-styled marketing gurus. There are smart people out there who’ve invested their time and careers in analyzing social issues, running businesses and researching and implementing policy matters. Go find them. Bring them on air. Allow us to hear what they have to say, even if they conflict with your opinions.

News anchors should be good at what they are supposed to be good at. If you talk more than your panelists, it means you’re not a skilled interviewer. If your show turns into a free for all among the panelists within a few minutes into the show, it means that you are an embarrassment to your profession.

2. To investigate

Media organizations are the watchdogs of a democratic society. They are our conscience keepers. It’s their job to find where the fire is burning when they see smoke. It’s their job to separate fact from fiction and help us tell a real scam from a smear job. We live in a complex world with complex issues. We want someone to tell us what’s going on so we can make up our minds about it. We are looking for someone to trust. Not someone who makes us live in perpetual anxiety.

It’s not really important to me as to who broke the story. What’s important is that the truth does not get bent in the process. I find our media stunningly incompetent on two counts. 1. They are not the ones to break stories. Stories get handed to them on silver platters. 2. And when they are handed stories, they make no effort to uncover details. In fact, they go through great trouble to obfuscate matters.

The last time we saw high quality investigative journalism in India was in the late 1980’s when the Hindu broke the Bofors story.

3. To build consensus

The media plays a critical role in building public consensus on matters of national importance. It’s not an easy job to take on emotional issues and steer the public towards thinking objectively about them. It’s a lot of hard work to assemble facts about an issue and to paint a clear picture. Instead, we have television channels which take the lazy route by fanning flames and obscuring facts that they end up doing incalculable long term harm to the country. The cornerstone of a democracy is the ability to engage in public discourse. If we don’t get this right, our democracy will fail.

Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the United States said, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Unfortunately for us in India, we seem to have neither a functioning government nor media.

I hope you now understand why I don’t watch television news any more. I’m amazed that anyone watches at all. Is a little competency and integrity too much to ask for?


Send me your comments on Twitter

  • Amit

    I don't watch news channels too and I completely agree with all your points. The fact remains that news channels too have started behaving as entertainment channels. They thrive on masala, something that was made popular by Ekta Kapoor. If you ever watch the Hindi news channels, you will realize they have gone beyond redemption. Most of them are extensions of Big Boss.
    Secondly, our media works based on a nexus with the political parties. This automatically negates any credibility.

    • http://whatho.in whatho

      You've hit the nail on the head. They've become entertainment channels. What I don't get is – it's pretty obvious that there's a market (albeit smaller) for serious news watchers. No one is addressing that space yet. In the last decade, there's been a steady deterioration towards reducing everything into a sound bite.

  • http://cybernag.in Zephyr

    You have not mentioned one vital point. News channels are owned or at least funded by political parties for party propaganda. If you hear some of the anchors speak, you would know that the government has a tight control over what goes on air. As for NEWS, I think it should be called VIEWS at least in India.

    • http://whatho.in What Ho!

      The reason I didn’t bring up the ownership /conflict of interest issue is because there’s no evidence to support the claim that TV channels are being funded by political parties (except maybe in cases of regional channels like Sun TV or Jaya TV). Views, not News – that’s an apt description!

  • Sudhir Sabade

    I fully agree to you Srini and have been long thinking to air my views about it. One more virtue we want media to have is impartiality which the anchors you mention lack completely. They behave as if they are mouthpiece of the ruling party. On the other hand it pays for them to serve their masters. They are not in charity or for love of journalism. It is a BUSINESS for them.

    • http://whatho.in What Ho!

      You’re right. It’s a business thing for them. The thing is – it makes sound business sense to maintain credibility and impartiality over the long haul. The short term approach seems to be prevailing now.

      • Sudhir Sabade

        One thing we Indians and politicians in particular lack is far sightedness. Every body wants quick fix. There is no thing as infrastructure let alone world class after 65 years of independance. Most ridiculous thing is when you here man power shortage in offices, and we boast largest young population in the world.
        I had an opprtunity to stay in S. Korea in the city of Busan almost the size of Pune both in size and population and there are 7 passport offices there like we have municipal ward offices. In whole of Maharashtra we dont have that many.

      • http://whatho.in What Ho!

        well said. sigh. we have a way of inflicting needless pain on ourselves, don’t we?

  • http://amheretowrite.blogspot.in/ Aarthy

    That was a very good post .. Even I do not watch these so called news channels .. I find their continuous reporting on some obscure useless matter for days together until they find another piece of ‘news’ downright irritating .. I feel we were better off with having just half an hour of news aired in the morning and night .. There cannot be more than that to report in a day after all ..
    Glad to have stumbled upon your blog .. Your posts are very insightful and well written ..
    Keep writing!

    • http://whatho.in What Ho!

      Thanks for stopping by. Appreciate your kind words! The best thing to do is to just stop watching! If enough of us do that, maybe the media folks will get the message.