There is a friend of mine who is a passionate sports lover and always keeps saying that however popular and mass-based cricket might be, it still does not qualify as a sport in his scheme of things as cricket is an entertainment and not sports. I may be about to kick off another debate than the one I want to raise here, so let me contextualize it. These days NEWS TV is no longer news TV.
I can say that I watch more than one hour, typically two hours of TV every day, and most of it is dominated by news channels. I am not counting the news TV that plays in my office all the time. These days it’s very difficult to distinguish while surfing whether you are on an entertainment channel or a 24-hour news channel. When you see Sushmita Sen it’s not necessarily only on ‘Koffee with Karan’. If you watch Rakhee Sawant, you are perhaps watching India's latest leader in the Hindi news domain. We in India have interesting and new news formats and maybe we can evangelise them to the world at MIPCOM. Hey guys, don't forget to give me my commission.
The ‘entertainisation’ or shall I say bastardisation of Indian News domain is complete. Sample these catchy lines and promos – ‘Masjid mein sex’, ‘Mandir mein nanga naach’, ‘Saanp bana hero’, ‘Beti ka Aashiq’ – these are real stories from real news channels, at least channels that started as news channels and still claim to be news channels. I am not even talking of B-rung news channels, but the top 10 players.
Are we pushing the envelope too far? Has the viewer been rediscovered by editors and marketing heads as voyeurs? Entertainment is masquerading as news. I remember almost two years back when one of India's foremost iconic journalists quit the institution of news in India (it's a four letter word) and deserted the father of television news journalism in India, I was told by a close associate of his that apart from the lure of moolah this gentleman had quit as a protest against the bunty and bubblisation of news. But is everyone in the news TV domain following the same rules and doing more of the same?
Peddling titillating snippets, starlets talking about failed relationships and daughters-in law pulling the plug on incestuous fathers-in-law. What do you say when the top five programmes on news TV are based on crime, sex and sleaze?
The new entrants have really pushed it far. Without taking names, almost all the Hindi news channels are guilty of peddling soft porn, if I may say so, to viewers. These editors and journalists entered this profession to make a difference. Public interest has been sidelined for appeasement through titillation. Are English news channels guilty of the same? Yes, but to a lesser extent and tend to focus more on their discovery of breaking stories or impact stories.
However, one can clearly see that these stunts work in the short term, but are not effective in the medium and long term and that's my view. Viewer connect has taken a new meaning. You have to spend money buying Hindi sleaze novels or porn CDs. NEWS TV, or shall I say SLEAZE TV, is free on air. Yes, there are a few serious human interest, political, developmental and policy stories that affect our lives. This is merely to stay ahead and maintain their brand image.
I was one day jokingly saying why are the two large news networks entering the entertainment domain again, they are already in the entertainment domain and competing with other players in the same domain. It actually seems like a real situation. I have also seen the widespread resentment and reservation against the draft content code formulated by the I&B Ministry and I agree with some of the worst fears of our broadcaster and journalist friends. But, we do need regulation of TV content, especially television news content. Yes, the big players talk of self-regulation and subjectivity of the current policy, but somebody has got to blow the whistle.
BBC and CNN in that order are still serious and credible sources of news to me because of their sustained editorial stance. Big Brother is really watching. Let television news be television news and not a reality show with stars thrown in or sleaze TV.
This article is excerpted from Pitch. Pitch is a monthly magazine on Marketing and Adverising.