Archive for August 1st, 2008

Stretching Credulity.

1 August 2008

Strong & steady supply of advertising revenue is so vital today for TV channels that without it they will asphyxiate. Media planners with huge advertising budgets are hooked on to TRP ratings the way investors are to stock market indices. TRP ratings shape ad agencies’ & marketers’ choices of media mix & channel portfolio. Naturally TV channels go ballistic when TRP ratings drop. In a dog eat dog world of predatory survival, fight for consumers’ eyeballs is a fight to finish. Wooing & bewitching fickle consumer attention has spawned a whole new industry with myriad professions like entertainers, investigators, crooners, quiz masters, talk show hosts, experts, news makers & what have you. Many of these were extant even earlier, but this new breed has a special quality. A surreal agility to ply their trade at the flick of a button – now on, now off, and yet make a mark in the allotted ‘you have only one minute to……….’ slot. Entertainment expressway now bulldozes across knowledge pathways like education, reading, performing, experimenting, and listening etc with such a brazen merriment that few notice the progressive collapse of multifaceted life into a monochrome ‘unitainment’. Chimeras like ‘Edutainment’, ‘Infotainment’, are pedalled as originals, or even better than them.

No wonder then that distinction between reporting news & manufacturing news is obliterated. Proliferation of news channels have skyrocketed the demand for ‘news’. Sensational news! Bizarre news! Audacious news! More outlandish it is the better. Age of ‘Newstainment’ has arrived. Take the case of a child falling down a tube well that received 24x7coverage. Dramatization of the tragedy was so complete that afterwards there were not a few serial incidents. May be what went unreported before, was now found to be newsworthy or may be children developed a liking for falling down the tube wells. When a dentists daughter was found murdered in the national capital region not a single channel missed the opportunity of day by day coverage.

Channel sleuths unearthed motives : crime of passion, of protecting honour or for concealing illicit relations. Trajectory of blood squirts after the neck was slit were analysed in great details & pontificated over. Crimes scene were recreated & enacted with great panache to give a ‘eyewitness feel’ to viewers. Verdicts were passed with great solemnity. Psychology, Forensic science, Sociology, Law, all such disciplines were made to yield their tools for ‘investigation’ that unfolded daily like a mega family soap. Newstainment mesmerized. Eyeballs thirsted for more. Veracity was inconvenient. Truth was the only casualty. Who cares? Newstainment was truth. No channel cared.

When I therefore read the press statement in Indian Express on 31st July, I baulked. CNN IBN claimed “Truth cannot be partial, inconclusive”. Pious pronouncements littered the text. “Since the speculation is based on hearsay, conjecture and mere guess-work, we at CNN-IBN, the country’s leading English news channel, feel that it is necessary to set the record straight.” “Moreover, the ‘sting’ operation we conducted was unique in that neither were we participants, nor were we engaging in ‘entrapment’ by offering cash, nor were we under a false identity. We were, as is accepted in practices in the international press, ‘flies on the wall’, simply recording an alleged bribery operation, without interfering in it at any stage.” I read in disbelief that the channel cared so much for truth and nothing but the truth that it let go without even a whimper a mega opportunity, mother of all newstainment, to make a kill. Case of course is about the video footage (not released) revolving around (nu)clear trust vote held on 22nd July & the spectacle of wads of notes waved in the well of parliament.

Channel claims remarkable restraint when it asseverates “At the same time, as we have informed the Speaker’s office, we reserve the right to telecast the story as and when we believe we are in a position to do so.” Claims in the statement seem so atypical of newstainment business that they stretch my credulity. Something more is going on here than meets the eye. I don’t trust a word of that press statement. It’s a poor apology for withholding information that entire nation was entitled to know then & even now. Probably business interests of owners of IBN / GBN / Net Work-18 would have taken a bigger hit than what the advertising revenues would have reaped. Doesn’t that sound credible?