Beverly Hills is West Hollywood, California. The city is entirely surrounded by Los Angeles (LA). Woody Allen once famously remarked, “In Beverley Hills, they don't throw their garbage away - they make it into television shows.” The brilliant satirist couldn’t have been more candid about the kind of content that modern television beams. As globalization gradually paints every last nook of the world -- in its often outlandish colors -- we have become witness to an era of mushrooming TV channels. There is a new news culture. Everyone and his dog is well-informed. The only problem is that the information is mostly run-of-the-mill and garden variety, doing nothing to add to their intellectual prowess.
Sample this: Sanjay Dutt, a movie star, is going to visit a goddess in the hills. Breaking news: Dutt has now ridden a brown pony. Our channel is the first to bring you these live pictures, as Dutt crosses milepost # 6 en route to the hill goddess. His girlfriend is on another horse, but wait Sanjay’s pony has stopped. Let’s go and see why.
This is just a slice of what passes as journalism and TV reporting in India. If the television craze continues with the present level of programs, we are destined to have a nation of morons. Marsh was so very right. The problem with TV news in India is that it is still in its infancy. At a nascent stage with naïve people running the show. So you have bewildered boys and girls, fresh out of journalism schools, thrusting microphones down the throats of any one who can be remotely called a celebrity. It can be yesteryear film villains or former cricket players or anyone for that matter. As long as someone has Fluff Value.
We have a large crop of TV news channels, most of them Hindi, in India. By far, the Hindi chaps presenting the 24 X 7 news, are the worst of the lot. The reporters are homespun kinds, mostly mediocre. The reports are average. The other day, my attention went to a solitary TV glaring, as I ambled across a room. The hacks were following some former model, who perhaps unsuccessful in the fake fashion world -- and unable to cope with it -- had gone penniless and turned edgy and high-strung. She begged the reporters to let her be but our Boys-Without-Brains won’t relent. What followed was a sickening invasion of the poor girl’s privacy. Ethics, Responsible Journalism! Are u nuts? The Mike-goons have to have a story to be fed to the insatiable belly of the Non-stop news culture.
It is amazing that the news culture has dropped to such hollowness. My friends in TV tell me that they do it for TRPs. That there are no real issues to cover and if there are any, no one is really interested. I reckon the real truth is far more sinister. The Hindi news czars have identified their target audience: The hoi polloi. The segment includes everyone from your neighborhood paan-waala to an average office going guy, who has no understanding of how the junk news is manufactured and packaged. Some stupid Baba, making villagers drink some unholy concoction, so that they can make only male babies. Or the same, old, trite, beaten terrorism theme. Show some bearded guys in skull caps and talk in fluent, loud Hindi phrases, complete with silly reporters at ten places (talking to unintelligent passersby, who can’t even spell terrorism) and you have a full package. The problem is compounded by the fact that the entire exercise has to be repeated over and over gain.
And it is not like the west. TV news in US, UK and most of Western Europe is very balanced, produced and presented by the very best and mature people. They are seasoned and mostly original, with occasional ideological tweakings. In India you get – for example -- a very uncouth looking Prabu Chawla, shamelessly aping Tim Sebastin in Hard Talk (BBC World). Our balding Prabu anchors Seedhi-Baat (Straight talk…Hard talk, Loose talk…Naughty boy, Copy-Cat). Call it his puerility, but no one has explained the cultural gap between UK and India to our local James Bond. Tim is often confrontational and bellicose in his interviews and that is conventional going by the stiff upper lip British standards. Simply filching his style and talking to your Hasti (Important Figure/Personality….that includes a gawky item girl, et al) is simply childish. Prabu’s channel, Aaj Tak, I forgot to add, is a rage with the masses.
TV news in India has become a euphemism for cacophony. They distort facts and coax at will. And they holler a lot, like farmers. It is trash and it is a huge threat to the intellectual fabric of the people who are its supposed viewers. As they often say…Theatre is life. Cinema is art. Television is furniture.