Hello Anchorism, Buy-Buy Journalism!

Hello Anchorism, Buy-Buy Journalism!

Sushil Kumar

To give a real hands-on internship experience during the general elections, a team of super-excited journalism students interned with the hot news channel, ‘India Public’. They are now back in their institute, working on their Internship Report. Marinating on their experiential lessons, the team comprises Kishore, Husain, Asha, Noel, and Mary. Even as they were in the news channel, an instant lesson they imbibed was the importance of catchy acronyms; and to their surprise, they had a Eureka moment when they realized that the first alphabets of their names could be juxtaposed to KHAN M. And from thereon that’s how they wanted to be branded. So here is the KHAN M Gang kicking-off their discussion (This is a satirical piece).

Kishore: Folks, let’s be candid – we studied the ABCs of journalism for so long. Having spent our internship at ‘India Public’, do you feel that we were able to validate the academic stuff with the real thing? Let’s do a recap.

Husain: Truth and accuracy was an important tenet, we were taught—and that a journalist should get the facts right, which depends on verification.

Asha: Journalists must vouch for independence from the subject they cover and shouldn’t get colored by their own ideologies or preferences—but be guided by their personal conscience.

Noel: To put it succinctly, Fairness, Impartiality and Accountability should be the cornerstones of journalism.

Mary: It must be a platform for public criticism where errors are publicly acknowledged. And where news remains relevant, comprehensive and proportional to the story being covered.

Kishore: More importantly, as members of the Fourth Estate, journalists have the primary responsibility to the citizens, readers, audience, or say, humanity –and not to vested interests.

Husain: When we evaluate what we experienced with what we studied, looks we were on another planet, guys. My takeaway from the internship has been endless debates on Corruption and Controversies.

Mary: May I add, Cricket and Cinema.

Noel: Since both of you are fixated on the ‘C’-Word, let me say, Crime and Calamities.

Asha: Celebrities and Character assassination.

Kishore: Curious Trivia and Current Affairs, as a last option when there is nothing to rave and rant about!

Husain: Gosh! That makes it ten Cs. Are we now discovering the new 10 Commandments of Television Journalism?

Noel: We also need to discover how the profession got degenerated to this level –and this should be the crux of our project presentation.

Mary: Come to think of it-- no point blaming the journalist fraternity alone. Because when viewers switch on the television, they wish to switch off from the harsh realities of life. If television doesn’t cater to these needs, they will seek solace elsewhere—they are flooded with choices in today’s networked multi-screens planet.

Asha: Let’s trace the history of what evenings represented, starting with the 1970s. ‘News’ and newspapers were meant for mornings; and entertainment for the evenings and nights--this has been embedded in our collective consciousness.

Kishore: So one may have profound expectations from a news channel, but at 9 pm, they have to compete for eye balls with an entertainment channel; and also with a sports channel telecasting a nail-biting cricket match…and so on. So the common denominator in all these cases is that the viewers be locked-in with engaging content.

Asha: Remember the oft-quoted dialogue by the heroine in the movie, ‘Dirty Picture’, which applies to television also: “Filmein sirf teen cheezo ke wajah se chalti hai ... entertainment, entertainment, entertainment ... aur main entertainment hoon” (Films do well only because of 3 reasons ... entertainment, entertainment, entertainment ... and I am entertainment).

Husain: Besides entertainment, I feel the essence of survival in this competitive landscape is to build in a strong element of ‘conflict’ in the content which will hook the audience—be it news or non-news television. Ponder what’s is telecast on GECs. You see a serial with diabolical plots. Switch to news channels on prime time and you will feel as you have landed in a conflict zone – with ‘experts’ on both sides of the divide sharpening their knives. Whether news or serials, it is conflict which appeals to our basic instincts, and that's what leads to higher viewership.

Noel: Yes, viewership is the key. Don’t you remember what used to happen every Thursday around noon time at ‘India Public’. All the top honchos would be poring over the Television Rating Points (TRPs) from the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC). Everybody’s life depended on it—you could see it in their eyes.

Mary: If you think news channels are upholding the true values of journalism, you are barking up the wrong tree. It's all about BARC, silly. Since the common denominator for all broadcasters, irrespective of their classification, is their capacity to imprison viewers to their respective channels, one tends to see a great degree of similarity between News and Non-News channels: to bank on sensationalism, drama, intrigue, entertainment. And that’s why, to a large extent we see a victory of fiction & emotion over facts & reason; and a marked tilt towards debating over reporting.

Husain: Today in a news channel, the dramatis personae is the Anchor, respectfully designated as Managing Editor, Chief Editor and so on. And what do the Anchors do? They uphold the new 10 Commandments of TV Journalism and inject it with a large dose of conflict, entertainment, engagement, debate, arguments, cacophony…That’s the reason why election predictions or poll results has now become the defining moment for anchors.

Kishore: Over the past few years, the collective wisdom of news broadcasters, especially in India, has created a skewed public perception of television news; it is so unfortunate that the fourth estate has come to such a pass. Editors have failed to edit their tongues. Anchors fail to anchor themselves. And the invitees to a news debate, come prepared to test their vocal chords. What is presented as ‘Breaking News’, rarely finds a mention in the next day’s print media!

Noel: Very true. Gradually the news media appears to be competing with social media to grab eyeballs. In such a scenario, news channels are driven by TRPs which forces them to drift to a content-mix which thrives on nationalism, sensationalism, populism…to name a few.

Asha: Let’s be fair. In a way, every viewer is looking for genuinely engaging content—which could be either News or Non-News, Sports or Cookery, Kids stuff or Adult fantasies. Basically the content should engage the audience instantly and consistently, if the wrath of the Remote Button has to be kept at bay. Only then can the broadcaster win the TRP race.

Kishore: So as a team we are coming to the hypothesis that conventional journalism as we are being taught is all but dead, especially in the broadcasting space? Isn’t such a hypothesis too radical to present from the point of view of our grades?

Husain: As journalist students, the most valuable lesson that we were taught is to uphold the Truth – and the fact is that news broadcasting has started negating the core principles of journalism, as it has being taken over by corporate opportunism and fake news. The latest ‘KISS Formula’ is Keep It Shockingly Sensational. And that’s the truth, which must be stated fearlessly.

Mary: Agree. Look at the voyeuristic news coverage of a blatantly sexist remark by a politician on the inner-wear of a lady politician. Or an insensitive comment on the father of the nation. And still worse, the choicest invectives by all the potential PM-hopefuls with a view to remaining ever-present on news channels.

Kishore: Hey guys! Don’t be so cynical. The flip side is that we have been born in an age where our profession can say anything, can humiliate anyone, and we can get away with any nonsense.

Noel: Let’s look at the brighter side, buddies. Who cares for Vox Populi; just hunt for suckers who are telegenic and vocal, and have the potential to utter post-truths, at the prodding of our irrepressible anchors.

Asha: Let’s face it. We can trade TRPs for Truth, Vilification for Verification, Commerce for Conscience and Fame for Fairness.

Husain: Substitute Idealism with Ideologies, Honesty with Hashtags, Journalism with Jingoism and Neutrality with Narcissism.

Kishore: And in your initial years in the profession, remember to make an image-connect with your viewers: it could be standing in waist deep water reporting a flood; chasing a rule-bending politician screaming ‘VIP racism’; catching controversial people unawares and get thoughtless bytes, so that you have footage to bite them on prime time for a week or so. Leave the rest to the graphics department of the channel.

Asha: Didn’t we notice during our internship, that everybody is perpetually talking of ‘Breaking Stories’. So everything is a story told by the anchor—yes, just a story to be told and then forgotten.

Mary: In short, we work hard to become the next story-telling anchor in the media space!

Noel: Friends, we are witnessing media history in the making - where journalism has been replaced by ‘Anchorism’. The journey has just begun, and we need to discover the new Promised Land of unimaginable opportunities.

Kishore: Yes and these opportunities will be dependent on moneybags. Remember how headlines used to be modified, when in the midst of a discussion, the editor would get a call from what we used to call the Deep Throat. How come the fourth estate became murkier than real estate, with the anchor transforming into the new power don.

Asha: Welcome to the era of bought out journalists, paid media, sponsored debates and quid pro quo deals.

Husain: Hurray, for a change the KHAN M gang has discovered authentic Breaking News!

The KHAN M Gang shout in unison: We have got our project subject which is bang on target: “Hello Anchorism, Buy-Buy Journalism”!

Sushil Kumar is currently Co-Founder, Grochange Global, and Chief Mentor, Mansions and ex-Dean, Amrita School of Business.