FICCI Frames 2008: Of eyeballs and credibility

There have been several instances in the past when editors of Indian News channels have been stuck between taking a call whether to relay news that lack wisdom but guarantee a high viewership. In their race to be one up, are News channels compromising content with sensationalism?

e4m by Rishi Vora
Updated: Mar 25, 2008 6:26 PM
FICCI Frames 2008:  Of eyeballs and credibility

There have been several instances in the past when editors of Indian News channels have been stuck between taking a call whether to relay news that lack wisdom but guarantee a high viewership, or beaming stuff that are classified as being categoric and genuine, irrespective of the numbers it garners. The Prince incident that rocked the nation is one classic example, where questions were raised about the over-explosion of content on the topic, especially when another important incident -- the Beirut episode, where 400,000 Indians were stranded, should have got ample and more importance on the same day.

In a session titled ‘Is News Entertainment changing the face of television news in India’, News specialists like Sanjay Ahirwal, Executive Editor, NDTV India; Rajeev Bajaj, Vice President, Sahara Samay; Satinder Bindra, Special Correspondent/ Consultant; and G Krishnan, CEO, Aaj Tak debated on the factors that should determine the content being beamed on television news channels and several other issues.

In his presentation on the changing face of News channels, Krishnan said that different people look at News from a different perspective. He explained: “An advertiser will want more eyeballs on the channel irrespective of what the content would be, while the editor will always be in a dilemma as to what works better – is it the true sense of journalism that matters or should we give the viewers what they want? Today, the consumer demands the 4Cs, namely Cricket, Cinema, Comedy and Crime. There is no option for News channels, but to feed the viewers with what they want.”

When a question based on News’ channel’s ‘social responsibility to deliver genuine news’, was thrown open to the panel, Krishnan, talking on behalf of AAJ Tak and Headlines Today said, “We do carry stories that matter, and we do deal with social responsibility. But at times, when things really get demanding and competitive, we have to take a call to go for what the viewers want and not think of social responsibility for the interest of our channels. That’s a call you have to take as the editor/head of any news channel.”

However, Ahirwal of NDTV was completely against playing with genuine news. “News can’t be entertainment and entertainment can’t be news. These are two different genres, and one should not try to mix them. What channels are doing today during prime-time News is not News at all. It happens a lot with Hindi News channels. Going by the content which is being aired currently, I reckon we don’t require News reporters. Let’s do something about this, and restore the credibility of News as News!

Bajaj of Sahara Samay argued that striking a right balance was critical. Talking about Prince and the Beirut episode Bajaj said, “I understand that the Beirut incident was important for News channels to cover, but the Prince episode too was generating a lot of interest among viewers. We have to strike a balance here and ensure that no News is given more importance than what it deserves. At the end of the day, the decision should be based on what affects you and the viewer the most.”

Recalling the Vidarbha farmers’ suicides episode, Bajaj noted that viewers weren’t interested or bothered to elicit responses on the same matter once a mobile campaign was on air. “The poor response to the Vidarbha incidents’ is a sign that the tastes of Indian viewers are changing. May be we are not giving News in a manner that they want, or may be that with the coming of age of technology and the rising economy, people have become more aspirational. We need to come up with News which is inspirational, and educational.”

Considering the number of News channels already in the market, and some other awaiting launch, the questions that arises here is ‘How many more?’ Commenting on this front, Bajaj explained that there was space for everybody in the market, and whoever could deliver relevant News that matters to the viewers the most, would be able to survive in the long term.

Bindra is of the opinion that in ‘News entertainment’, channels were losing journalism in true sense. “It’s really a question of wanting a short term gain or a long term benefit. News entertainment is all about short-term gain and long-term pain.”

After a heated discussion on what works most effectively in the Indian News domain, the session concluded on a common ground that it was important for News channels to strike a balance between commerce and content.

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