The Tabloidization of Indian News

When I left India as a teenager, the main news channels were Doordarshan 1 and 2: government-run, highly-censored, sedate and low-tech. Here’s a nostalgia piece about the “Doordarshan Divas” for those who remember them.

Below is a brief conversation with one of the newsreaders from those times.

Cable/satellite was just beginning to spread among the most affluent but, with very poor reception and strict government regulation, their news channels were not much good at all.

NDTV started the ball rolling some-25 years ago. And, its co-founder, Prannoy Roy, talks, in the video below, about those beginnings, the journey and the particular challenges. These days, with a gazillion news channels in many languages, quality control is entirely out the window. Almost every Indian news channel tries to out-fox Fox News in its sensationalism, loud panel discussions and rude hosts/anchors discussing, mostly their own biased, uninformed, poorly-researched and prejudiced opinions. They’re truly not news so much as entertainment — which you’d turn to only if it was a slow night on every other channel.

Roy’s points here are on target. You can read the entire transcript here. In addition to tabloidization, he touches on quid-pro-quo journalism, defamation issues, net neutrality, etc.

The issues he states have been mentioned by many long-time news media personalities across various channels and fora for a number of years now. In the end, as with a lot of things in India, it comes down to a lack of education/training and discipline in the profession (of journalism) and a lack of meaningful consequences for poor, shoddy work by unprofessional media people. If India is to be this rising star nation that her Prime Minister keeps touting, the dross that makes its way into millions of homes every day and night in the name of “news” needs to be cleaned out like yesterday.

Another example of shoddy journalism and, more than that, just a lack of common decency and sensitivity, was during the recent Nepal earthquakes when various reporters shoved mikes and cameras in front of bereaving people who had just discovered the dead body of a loved one and asked: “How do you feel right now?” Shocking, eh? This CNN iReport sheds more light.

On a personal note, I must say that NDTV tends to be my preferred English news channel in India. This has been due to their pioneering work in news media, their unashamed stance on tough issues (like when they aired a black screen for an hour after the government banned the documentary, ‘India’s Daughter‘) and their hiring of women for difficult field-based reports. By all accounts, they’re a very progressive workplace too. My only quibble, if I’m allowed, is that I wish that they would work on the accents, pronunciations and general tone/diction of the various reporters who often seem to be talking so quickly and so loudly that they make me want to gasp for breath. These days, it’s not hard to look up a correct pronunciation for a name or a place either….. I know, it’s a petty quibble, given the larger problems that Roy describes.

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