TV anchors run war rooms?
Even as the nation debates its next course of action after the covert Uri attacks that claimed the lives of 18 jawaans, a special contingent has launched a peculiar assault on Pakistan. Only, it isn’t from the border, but the confines of a newsroom. Replete with animated hand gestures, high-pitched voices and a nationalistic fervour, our news hours offer current affair information on a platter, with a generous dose of drama, and often an unwarranted opinion.
The past few days especially, have had news anchors urging the people and the government to take a stern action against the neighbouring state. One of prime time’s most popular news anchors, and a darling of the Twitterati, Arnab Goswami on his show, said, “You don’t solve terrorism by organising ghazal or qawalli sessions or a literature festival which is in fashion these days. These moves will change the way that the enemy — not the neighbour but the enemy that is Pakistan — looks at us.” Zee News urged its viewers to finally get out of a slumber and wake up, in the wake of the attacks.
These aren’t the only channels and anchors pushing for a more aggressive response. While there are many that lap up the popular sentiment, others, such as media personality Pritish Nandy, aren’t too impressed. “War is a subject that governments should talk about, not something that media can try to provoke.
Their doing so will only cause damage to India and its relationship with Pakistan. No matter what anyone claims, you cannot annihilate the state of Pakistan, or deny the fact that good or bad, Pakistan is geographically our neighbour and we have to coexist with them. It is necessary for the media to stay out of these matters. The media has ceased to see what their role is and is trying to capture a role that is not for them — one where they air out political views rather than reportage.”
Nandy insists that we differentiate between the people and government of Pakistan. “We are not at war with the people of Pakistan. We can say that we are unhappy with the government of Pakistan, perhaps the army, or even the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JUD) and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) but the people in general are a different matter.”
In other words, “Don’t go gung ho like Rambo about it,” says funny man Sorabh Pant. He reminds us that the last time former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee called for action, it affected close to 1,800 lives. “Both the social media and the news channels are fanning the fires when it comes to the anti-Pakistan sentiments. News channels today are constantly trying to outdo each other and it becomes a competition of who can scream the loudest. I understand the anger, but when you are talking about war, there should be some responsibility; it is not right to direct it towards the entire nation.”
At a time when entertainment channel Zindagi is facing fire for being a Pakistani export, one wonders if drama on news channels should be curbed. Senior journalist and lawyer Sanjay Pinto doesn’t particularly think so. “A news channel has the right to take an editorial stand. Hyperventilation or jingoism cannot be grounds to stop such shows. While a more restrained and circumspect stance is expected from the fourth estate, aggressive nationalism is not a crime. At the end of the day, foreign policy is not dictated by TV anchors.”
Writer and columnist Aakar Patel entirely disagrees with the way news channels conduct themselves, but he has an explanation for why they play out the way they do — “The electronic media runs on a different stimuli than the print media. Unlike the readership survey for newspapers, which only comes around once a year, TV channels and websites get daily feedback. What happens as a result of that is that you tend to conflate entertainment and passion with reportage. So a socialite’s daughter’s murder, India’s performance during the cricket world cup, or war is given similar treatment with four or five people forming a panel and talking about it. The more unhinged the opinion, the more likely they are to get re-invited to the show.”
About pressurising the government into taking a stand, he continues, “I think that the prime minister should maintain a distance from social media right now because it is full of impassioned opinions of people who are not well informed. While I do believe that the people have a right to be heard, in this particular scenario, he would do better to listen to the opinions of experts instead of people who are not informed but are voicing their opinions anyway. Modi is doing what many before him have done and treating this matter with caution, which is a stance, you have to take when the talk is of war. A reactionary, radical statement is not what is called for right now.”
It doesn’t however stop at high-pitched voices and dramatic hand gestures. Often a guest, whose opinion is sought, may have to be muted for different reasons. Social activist Varija Bajaj who is a regular with newsroom debates on television admits she has been on the receiving end of anchors’ heightened enthusiasm. “Cutting the panel short and muting the audio of a panellist whose view does not suit the opinion of the channel is common practice. I have also faced this. The fourth estate needs a complete overhaul,” she signs off sternly.