Thursday, February 21, 2008

Television debates – Do they lead anywhere?

English language news channels in India are increasingly becoming a problem of plenty. NDTV, CNN IBN, Times Now and Headlines Today (HT was once my favorite, but sadly their standards have fallen drastically of late) are the key players and are supposedly the most visible face of the free media that India has to the world.

While some programs stand out for their innovative structure, idea and format like the ‘Citizen Journalist’, ‘Walk the talk’ and ‘Frankly Speaking’, there are glaring deficiencies with respect to the nature of programs that feature debates with key political and social personalities voicing their opinions and view points. This was very objectively pointed out in a recent article in ‘Times of India’ – ‘What we don’t want to know’ by Santhosh Desai (Feb 18th, Bangalore edition).

People like Abhishek Singhvi and Arun Jaitley are regulars representing the congress and the BJP respectively in many of these debates. The grudge that I have is that, these televised arguments are nothing more than just a window for the Indian public to know how strongly people from their favorite political parties defend their stand. Beyond that, thanks to the role of our hosts like Rajdeep Sardesai and Arnab Goswami, more often than not, one side of the story/debate gets conveniently under conveyed if I may venture to put it so.

In their eagerness to stand for what they perceive as the so- called righteous/liberal/secular side, they tend to suppress the view points of the other purportedly fundamental/non-liberal/non-elitist side. Be it the debate over Modi’s style of functioning, OBC reservations, artistic freedom or conversions, their style has become quite evident. The host of the show tries to hijack the nature of the debate and by clever usage of words, facts and witticism weans the direction of the debate to the side that he/she/’the channel to which the host belongs to’ feels are in the right. Santosh Desai rightly calls it ‘Willful blindness’ and ‘an imposition of one point of view’.

While in the majority of cases, this can lead to situations where the public feels elated at seeing their political representatives deserving what they get, in some cases, the public sympathy may not rest with the host. To take Gujarat’s election as an example would drive home the point – though many exit and opinion polls gave a slight majority to the BJP, our television hosts wondered how this could be. They were joined curiously in this case by some sections of the so-called secular press. In the end, the mandate seemed to be overwhelmingly in favor of the BJP.

What I am trying to say is that, we need more than just SMS polls and lopsided debates to influence/mobilize public opinion on issues of civic/political/general interest. Hopefully, our English news channels would discover their follies soon enough to recover and regain public faith if at all that is lost!!


Santosh Anand said...

Good one man .. Lot of time i have felt the same too.

Also what i felt is that, these talk shows debate etc dont come up with a final decision or opinion. They leave it to the governing authorities. So they must be more active.

Anyway a very good post.

Shefali K. said...

Well, debates are never meant to reach conclusion. There are no victors, just an entertainment on who is more witty in smacking the opponent. Even if someone wins, it is never the common man.

It is nothing more than a mere entertainment, thats what television is for in the first place. How, unfortunate.

shiva said...

Thanks Santhosh and Shefali...

It is indeed unfortunate that we the public neither have any say on these debates nor are we able to see anything purposeful emerging out of them.