Guest Column: Noora Kushti - Ethical buffoonery & helpless audiences

Gopinath Menon, CEO, Melon Media feels that debates on news channels today have been reduced to the frivolity of cock fights in Pakistan, with much posturing & no sane conclusions

by Gopinath Menon
Published - Oct 11, 2013 8:51 AM Updated: Oct 11, 2013 8:51 AM
Guest Column: Noora Kushti - Ethical buffoonery & helpless audiences

What started as cock fights in the Northern province of Punjab in Pakistan, has emerged as a calculated sport. Noora Kushti is about gathering crowds, posturing and knowing well in advance the result of the fight. The intention is to perk up life, get a feel of participation, and a share of victory and celebration for all.

In later times, as society evolved and became more sane and conscious, the term started to be used to other forms of battles and debates. Now, it is commonly used for most competitive activities where the outcome can be easily predicted.

When one watches the numerous TV debates, one can’t help but feel there is a Noora Kushti going on in each one of them.

Historically, news as a genre has been known for its credibility and saneness. People who consumed it, valued it as it would tell them something they did not know. It was treasured for another reason – creating conversation in a peer group, regardless of how mundane or trivial the audience might be. News commanded respect and the stature of a media house was gauged by the loyal and serious audiences that it possessed.

But not anymore. Prime time on television has become an ‘akhara’ (wrestling area). The battle is between 25 channels screening the same content, the same topic, only the actors are different. Entitlement to be on prime time news shows is only possible if there are some definite traits. You have to be thick skinned, have the gift of the gab, must not shy away from washing others’ dirty linen in public, always make it a point to talk when some other speaker is speaking – in short, you need to have all abilities except knowledge. You need to have the single-minded ability to continue speaking for five minutes without saying anything as well. So, if you can create a racket and have the passion to participate in a circus, you qualify.

Seems like a tough set of parameters? Not at all. India proudly boasts of many political parties and each political party has several spokespersons. Each one has the uncanny ability of talking to someone and addressing another.

Always losing out and saying the opposite

News channels have always considered themselves as crusaders. They feel that they have been successful in creating this perception of fighting the wrongdoer and helping bring the culprit to justice. They couldn’t be more wrong in their self-assessment. Take the case of over 30 channels taking on the BCCI Chief after his relative was accused of spot fixing and other wrong doings. Weeks of media trials and strong words proved futile against the BCCI strongman and he was elected back to the office unopposed. It was a pertinent reminder to all editors to be careful of what they choose and the stance that they adopt.

The state of editors in news channels

There are none. Sadly so. The easiest for them is to be moderators and get 8-10 speakers and ask them for a free for all. This formula works well for the programming and editorial guys as they just have to be good coordinators.

There is never an iota of guilt even when the news that the channels run throughout prime time – such as the news of the Godman who is behind bars – can be summed up in a five-minute capsule. If the news is really compressed in a five-minute capsule, then editors and correspondents will have to think, work on stories, and refrain from arm chair reporting. But as of now, it is more convenient to be in an air conditioned studio and have 10 speakers tear each other apart.

Can we correct this posturing?

Sure we can - only if the News Broadcasting Authority has any teeth. The politics of grievance is contagious and encourages all to be bitter and malicious. I have seldom heard anyone say anything good about anyone else. This lack of positivity will result in lesser stickiness with audiences and gradually result in total erosion. This, in turn, will provoke advertisers to stop parking moneys as their consumers would no longer be regularly watching.

It will be a good idea for all involved in news channels to regularly watch Doordarshan or any of its channels to understand selection and treatment of news. Rajya Sabha TV is an excellent example of how topics are selected and the eminent speakers who express their viewpoint. It teaches you courtesy and dignity of conducting one self. The tragedy, however, is that Doordarshan itself does not understand or realise its own strengths and hence, goes largely unnoticed amongst the movers and shakers of the society.

Where does that leave the audiences?

In no man’s land; and that too without a compass. This emotional trauma will continue till news channels start bleeding to death. They seem very near it as the regulatory authority has now cut down on the volume of advertisements possible in an hour. This should result in some sanctity being restored.

I wonder how the originators of this game of Noora Kushti would react if they saw any of our news channels for a few days. A good hearty laugh is definitely a possibility.

The author is CEO of Melon Media

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