I had to come back, to sit with you and discuss an issue quite close to my heart. Consider this a heart to heart between us - my title might suggest that I'm being preachy. Trust me I am not. Once again, I'm trying to be the insider, introspecting with the perspective of an outsider and wondering where the Change can begin from.
I began my career as a broadcast journalist in January 2001. It was the golden age for broadcast journalism. The power of television was what lured me to journalism - not the lure of journalism to television. While many of my peers and friends to date, consider it an inferior medium populated by rhetorical preachers or dumb bimbettes, I still believe Television as a medium is a strong vehicle for views and ideas.
History apart, the reason why 2001 is important is because over the next 4 years, there was some competitive journalism that followed. Good stories, strong reportage and the coming of age of a number of regional faces - till then only Prannoy Roy and his first bunch of followers had any television recall. News breaks and notching up an exclusive - be it with a visiting cricket captain or even with a film star was counted as a feather in the reporters cap. Those little thrills of climbing up the reporting ladder seem almost like a farce in today's times when Sonia Gandhi's hospitalisation due to a mild fever is breaking news, Hrithik Roshan offering a rose to someone waiting outside his house as a publicity gimmick for his new film is broadcast live!I think primarily it is the lack of strong, gutsy editors with the vision and the courage to make the economics work according to their plans and not vice versa is the biggest bane of television. Individual benchmarks of reporters are like drops in the ocean, you either fit in or ship out. What is needed is a broader editorial culture that does not require a reporter to compromise theirs or their channel's stature by stooping to any lows for the sake of a sound bite, an exclusive story or even some kickbacks in cash or kind from acting as conduits between the deal makers and their signatories.
I strongly believe the Audience cannot sit in judgement of shoddy television and tsk tsk about the state of affairs. If there is a drop in intelligent programming, the viewers have to share blame for laziness creeping into working styles. Viewers of prime time news love rabble rousing, opinionated partisan debates. I have often pondered why when it is merely high on rhetoric and very very low on information and measured analysis. The aam aadmi gets a high out of being part of the crowd that punches down the weak link in the debate,of being one of those in a faceless mob that chanted 'Yes Yes Yes' when a big bully with the power of majority opinion on his side bloodied up a weaker opponent.
News shows and debates are now performances, with journalists exiting out of studios with smirks on their faces and asking a fawning set of fans " Sahi tha na?" Fans and their adoring opinions are cultivated and once a comfort zone is reached - journalists would rather not explore out of their comfort zone. If an Editor A has worked his way to earning the reputation of being a 'nationalistic' then you can be sure that 3 days out of 5 of the week there will be a topic that assures you a jingoistic crusade in the name of nationalism. The 'discerning' junta claim they are aware of the trap he lays by giving a nationalistic twist to every event that is remotely applicable, but come prime time, the remotes automatically tune in to that. My question is Why?
Excellent programming on Indian television have had to wrap up because the TRPs ( Television Rating Points) weren't high enough. At most editorial meetings in most channels across the country today, stories that do not address 'the target audience' directly are not even touched with a barge pole, irrespective of whether it is a story that the nation needs to know. When the audience has so much power in its hands, is it right to put the blame on the nonsense flooding your tv screens merely on the manufacturers? Customisation has become the buzzword of every commercial venture - marketing decides the editorial thrust thanks to the lack of enough media ventures that don't rate its success or reputation on the basis of advertising money it pulls in.
Journalists with the fattest paycheques in the industry today are not the best ones - they are the ones you - the audience made into brands by word of mouth and endorsement. They emerged as phenomenons because of you - the audience. So introspect, inspect and question if your choices didn't ultimately create the monsters that you are now so keen to disown.
It is not enough to say I have never watched any of these shows or that I have total contempt for the people who I'm now glad have been proven to have clay feet. You cannot conveniently link and de-link yourself to the faceless mass called Indian audience. When it comes to sharing responsibility, there is no absolution.
We are responsible for the rot in journalism, the rot in our entertainment where saas-bahus-and traditions that are not only obsolete but despicable are given a free rein at prime time and looking at the bigger picture - the rampant corruption in every sphere of our society!
The funny thing about India is everyone lives in a glasshouse, so now we have begun throwing pebbles at each others' homes so that the protest is recorded - but no one wants these bastions broken or have to take the pain of rebuilding it.
Introspect, Inspect, Question..and Please don't just follow.