The daily search for a ‘villain’ and the race to stoop to the bottom!

ROHIT CHANDAVARKAR
Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Media spectacle

 Anchors shouting at the top of their voice giving views and speculation which have nothing to do with the ground reality, the daily search for ‘a villain’ who can become the punching bag for just a day or two before the next scapegoat can be found, and highly opinionated coverage of every news and event, are becoming the hallmarks of today’s national news television. This trend now threatens to destroy the whole news media industry.

The biggest talking point on social media last full week was the sudden demise of popular actress Sridevi and the media coverage which followed! For the first time in a few months, news media, especially the national television news media, got an opportunity to see a huge spike in their Television Rating Points (TRPs), which somewhat represent the viewership number that a particular television channel has.

On the basis of TRPs, the channels demand and command their advertisement rates. As the ratings blew up, the channels started extending the coverage of Sridevi’s death in Dubai and as more and more TRPs poured in, the race to get into sensationalism began!

As somebody who has spent over five long years working at a senior level in Mumbai for national English news channels (during the phase where initially channels were very sober and stuck to serious news coverage but then slowly moved towards sensationalism), one can imagine what kind of ‘ideation and thought process’ must have gone into the content that emerged on television during these days past week! 

At one point, two or three prominent national channels tilted towards saying that Sridevi’s husband Boney Kapoor ‘would be joining the investigation done by Dubai police’, clearly suggesting as if Boney was actually being treated as an accused in this case, which obviously was the farthest thing from the truth.

Kapoor family friends now tell the media that they were with Boney Kapoor the night Sridevi died and he was so inconsolable that he cried like a child the whole night after discovering that she had passed away, he was in such bad shape that they were worried about something happening to him.

While this was the ground reality in Dubai, our two or three English news channel anchors were raising questions such as: ‘Why did Boney secretly come to Mumbai and return to Dubai again?’, ‘Who floated the heart attack theory, is Boney hiding something?’ Just the four words describing the cause of death as ‘due to accidental drowning’ gave the channels all the fodder to target Sridevi’s husband and almost convert him into the villain of the week, so that the news story could be sensationalised and viewership could be sustained. If this had happened in a western country, the concerned person would have filed legal defamation cases against the news channels and made them pay millions of dollars as compensation.

While English channels were as usual in search of some villain whom they could shout about during the evening prime time shows, their Hindi brothers were stooping to even further depths by enacting how drowning inside the bathtub can actually happen! All chroma key techniques were used to create the bathroom set in which the reporters were seen lying with a gun mike in the hand, describing what must have happened to Sridevi in the bathtub!

All this was just race to get more sensational than the rival channel and stoop the lowest level to humour people, while most of the viewers ridiculed all this content endlessly on social media! International broadcaster British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) actually did an analysis story on how Indian media’s coverage of the actress’ death in Dubai was taken by the viewers and how it just demolished the set norms of journalism and news media operations.

The danger in all this is that with repeated occurrences of this type, the news media in India stands to seriously lose its credibility and relevance. 

Anchors shouting at the top of their voice giving views and speculation which have nothing to do with the ground reality, the daily search for a ‘villain’ who can become the punching bag for just a day or two before the next scapegoat can be found, and highly opinionated coverage of every news and event, are becoming the hallmarks of today’s national news television. The whole trend threatens to destroy the news media industry.

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