Saturday, March 9, 2013

Everyone wants to be on TV

R. Sukumar --In India, everyone wants to own a car and house.
Everyone has an opinion, especially about politics and cricket (which is good).
And everyone wants to be on TV.
Every TV news story, irrespective of whether it is about a terror attack or a cricket match, has people jostling to get into the frame. And it isn’t just the man on the street who wants to be on camera. Politicians, businessmen, even print journalists who are otherwise rarely seen—all love to be on TV.
Most are willing to do what it takes, even if this means coping with a little indignity.

Many years ago, I saw, on a business news channel, a live report on the India Economic Summit of the World Economic Forum. A reporter was interviewing a CEO, and asking him about his thoughts on how the summit was going. Not that it matters, but his response was about how great the sessions were, which means he was dissembling because the India Economic Summit, which has since lost some lustre (thankfully) is one gigantic schmooze fest and not much more.
The interesting thing was that the camera showed, not just the CEO being interviewed, but at least three or four more, standing behind, respectfully, almost as if they were in a queue, waiting to be interviewed. Since it was too good an opportunity to lose, I sent one of the waiting CEOs a message to the effect (to which he responded with an epithet).
This TV fixation has made life difficult for newspapers and print journalists (yes, if this section of the column were to have a sub-head it would be Sour Grapes). When Mint’s reporters record, on small hand-held cameras, interviews with ministers and businessmen—for use on the Mint website as a small clip—they are invariably asked whether the interview will appear on a TV channel and, when told not, whether it could. Every participant in a Mint event over the past five years has wanted to know whether the event will be recorded and telecast on a TV channel.
And where the subjects themselves are ambivalent about media, their handlers and media managers step in (and most are predisposed towards TV).
Until this year, when there were no exclusive interactions, the finance minister’s post-budget interviews were prioritized thus: TV, newspapers, then magazines. Still, the government’s media management arm did pull a fast one by announcing, after the Economic Survey that there would be no interactions of the chief economic adviser with media, and then scheduling interviews with almost all TV channels.
It can be argued that people like to be on TV because they get to have their say, but this is true only of interviews, and only of those interviews where the questioner is willing to recede into the background—a rarity on Indian TV.
Mostly, ministers, CEOs, activists, and also print journalists (some of whom get paid to be on TV) appear in the squares most TV channels prefer to have on screen during their prime-time discussions (some TV channels have six squares; some eight). And they rarely get to have their say in this format because most Indian TV anchors believe their role is to bully and hector, not question and listen. (I must admit that business news channels are an exception. Their anchors, at least some of them, are well informed, and do try to listen to what their guests, usually experts, are saying.)
So, I can only conclude that the TV-fixation arises from a deep desire to see oneself on TV—preferably on mute.
Which is a good way to watch news TV in India.

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