January 26, 2020
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Prime Time Codswallop

The loudmouths who hold forth on TV talk shows and panel discussions are just as noisy and incomprehensible as their political compatriots.

Prime Time Codswallop

The monsoon session of Parliament has been washed out by a torrential downpour of personal abuse, screams, sloganeering and threatening mobs crowding around the presiding officers of both the Houses. The news media have had a field day, repeatedly pointing out that reasoned debate has been replaced by shouting matches in which nobody can be heard. Parliamentarians have been universally condemned for their atrocious behaviour. TV news channels have been especially vociferous in denouncing members of Parliament and politicians in general.

In a curious case of self-righteous and self-serving amnesia, the TV moguls have not noticed that their channels have been aping and surpassing the crass antics of legislators. The loudmouths who hold forth on TV talk shows and panel discussions are just as noisy and incomprehensible as their political compatriots. They outshout each other, though there is one caveat. The presiding officers of the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha are distinctly patient and noble while vainly attempting to uphold the dignity of Parliament. In stark contrast, the anchors and chief news presenters on prime-time shows openly encourage hand-picked panelists to brawl with each other. Instead of asking pointed questions, newsreaders usually issue long-winded harangues and then abruptly intervene to cut short the responses of interviewees. The news is read at frantic pace and in ear-splitting tones. Very few newsreaders have been trained to modulate their voices.

Our loud TV anchors and panelists have no business criticising our MPs, for they too pollute the discourse.

In the hierarchy of news anchors, the leading stars of prominent English language news channels are the worst offenders, so obviously puffed up they are with self-importance. One megalomaniac speaks of himself as “the nation” every night, another with a pretentious bowtie and pointy fingers pounces on his targets before they can complete half a sentence. Yet another pompously demands “be honest” and  “yes or no” answers on complicated issues. A fourth news star feigns easy familiarity and makes her senior interviewees cringe at her touchy-feely sentimentality. The Hindi news anchors sound relatively urbane only because they are able to use the politer nuances of ‘aap’, which are unavailable in English.

Much more worrying is that significant issues of great national importance are being reduced to a crude farce by hysterical, simple-minded presentations on television. It is becoming quite apparent that our rabid TV blabbermouths are debasing the discourse of Indian politics even more forcefully than are the rough denizens of our legislatures. After all, there are far fewer people who directly watch parliamentary proceedings compared to the millions of viewers who daily watch TV news channels and the noisy debates they thrill in.

Why pick on MPs and TV comperes when they represent many of us, who comprise an ever-growing segment of Indian society—people who are always ready to voice their brash opinions without listening to anyone? People who are averse to the language of reason but who are willing proponents and victims of wild rhetoric and poisonous prejudice. We pride ourselves on many of our cultural traits, including our ability to argue, though now the ‘Argumentative Indian’ increasingly sounds like a garrulous buffoon.

Jawid Laiq is a political commentator and author of The Maverick Republic.

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