The JNU controversy has shown the news television in India in its basest form. The sundry television channels outdid each other to generate the most outrage, with Times Now as usual going on the overdrive. Some channels wore on the sleeve their allegiance to the nationalism – a pulp variant of it – to bash up its presumed violators. No, there was nothing in the debate based on conviction. Nor even was it the result of the legitimate ideological persuasions of the various anchors. But the ugly slugfest was about the race to gain the maximum Television Rating Points to corner the most advertisements.
The JNU episode made for a riveting television where debates went on an overdrive to satisfy the collective moral outrage of the nation over the pro-Kashmir and pro-Afzal slogans at the JNU event, much of it deliberately orchestrated. The shows played to a rapt viewership. For well over a week we were witness to an angry, high decibal television, screaming headlines and a load of dramatic opinion in print which meant more readership, more viewership and more TRPs.
One could certainly understand, if all this hysterical chest-beating was a genuine expression of grief. But the fact is that it isnt. There is something deeply pathological about it. It is whipped up to address, reinforce and encash the deep reservoir of hate, prejudice and the inter-community bitterness in the large swathes of the society. So, any incident, no matter, how small or big is pounced upon as an opportunity to instil life in dull media routine, tired of reporting complicated political corruption which people now take for granted. New issues and concepts are taken up, divested of their profundity, turned into a caricature of their true import and then fed into 24X7 news cycle. And once milked dry of their TRP potential, they are abandoned for some more lucrative incident or an issue. In the process, convenient public opinion is honed. And more often than not, a large constituency of hate is created which, in turn, serves as a trigger for the political parties always on the lookout for issues with a ready audience and the potential for loose rhetoric.
There is one abiding subject that is frequently deployed to get the cash registers ringing. The media that ignores uncounted gross wrongs within the country or pays little attention to them goes ballistic once Pakistans name comes into play. This is not to take Islamabads side in the matter but to underline how the urgent need for television channels to get TRPs might be making India-Pakistan detente a remote prospect. The fact is that the Indo-Pak animosity has now acquired economic utility for the media and the electoral spin-offs for the political parties. So, this is a bitter legacy that is not in medias interest to address but something that needs to be cultivated and then frequently harvested for its fruits. This approach is not limited to India alone. Sections in Pakistani media and society can also be accused of being complicit in this. But in India, the rampaging anchor driven news television channels have poisoned the public discourse. Over the past few years, the shrill and jingoistic media debates have influenced a large swathe of public opinion, forcing even the secular parties to follow the public mood.
JNU episodes corrosive media output is a warning that what passes for a free expression on the new television is in fact a crude slugfest for more TRPs which bring more advertisements. This is the corporate media and its primary allegiance is to the money. We need an independent, crowded funded media whose obligation is to the people.
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