Long-distance travellers are more likely to turn on their internet today rather than open their newspapers. Such is the power of the electronic media that print is facing near-extinction in the developed world. It, however, survives in our country simply because our internet penetration is low—barely 6 per cent. Even so, TV scores over print. Let’s face it, left to themselves, humans choose instant gratification instantly. Tastes that require cultivation can always be put off till Monday next.
Ordinarily, this would not bother us much. Who cares for cultural snobs when there is so much fun and laughter in the low-brow stuff! Yet, when it comes to TV broadcasts, our critical faculties have to be standing sentinels. So much of our collective life depends on it.
This is why nearly always the shortcut is preferred. The best bet is to get politicians to throw vulgar abuses at each other. If the fur flies in a talk show, it is judged successful by its host. But they lose interest if it is reasoned, informed and polite. It is almost as if they were sitting with granny!
Really, do politicians know more than experts on almost everything? On a few things, yes; but everything? Yet, judging from the proliferation of political hitmen on TV, it would appear that knowledge resides primarily in them. This not only politicises matters unnecessarily, but, what is worse, viewers get a plethora of half-baked, calculated political opinions which are packaged as debate.
For example, even on the question of corruption, there are experts who have much to say on the subject, but it will always be the politicians getting the biggest soundbites. Or take caste in politics; and once again we see the familiar preference for political opinion over an expert one. Several discussions on ‘honour killings’ lost the plot because the importance of the law, and its precedence over certain customs, were never adequately highlighted. Likewise, with discussion on the Uniform Civil Code, communalism, and even terror, politicians always come first.
To a large extent, the poor quality of TV debates is largely because our broadcasters have little faith in their viewers. They believe the ordinary person wants to see only blood, gore and spittle. They’re probably right. The masses are like potatoes, true, but in different sacks of potatoes. They are switched on to their favourite channels, but with their minds switched off.
Where TV anchors go wrong, very wrong, is when they disrespect their own, quite awesome, talents. Given their backgrounds and training, they should want to be tested by the best worldwide. TRPs are mere fig leaves. Why not go for the whole tree, figs and all? There was a time when Hindi films were formulaic. Yet, against all tested prescriptions of Bombay’s dream makers, Peepli [Live] is a box-office grosser today, proving how audience perceptions can be moulded if the productions are really good.
Just think 3 Idiots and not the idiot-box, and the point will be clear. So if Bollywood can do it, why can’t TV?
Dipankar Gupta’s article on the influence of trps on framing TV agenda (Just Bite, Don’t Chew) rings true, but can it be put into practice? “trps are mere fig leaves”—just try telling this to owners and sponsors.
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