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Are news channels guilty of trivializing news?

03-February-2004
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Are news channels guilty of trivializing news?

Is the average news channel competing with the likes of Society and Bombay Times? Page 3 appears to be surreptitiously sliding into most news channels today in the form of Bollywood birthdays, high profile weddings, swanky pubs/restaurants and juicy squabbles and controversies.

Yesteryear’s crooner Suraiya’s demise deserved coverage, but those who prowled news channels could not miss the overwhelming emphasis on the Dev Anand connection. What was the need to lay it on so thick, was there any element of news to harp about the age-old liaison? It could be an enraged Salman Khan threatening to punch the lights out of Vivek Oberoi or Raveena Tandon’s marriage trousseau, or the intricate details of Karishma Kapoor’s wedding ceremony…. all these merit a place in the news bulletin. Again, a lot many late night shows practically thrive on the fast life and the social get-togethers of the rich and the famous. The question is - Are news channels guilty of trivializing news largely?

Arup Ghosh, Head, Sahara Samay admits that there is a market for spicy sound bytes and star wars, but also states that the same does not dilute the credibility of news channels. Ghosh asserts, “There is an overwhelming demand for news of this kind, why deny it? The fact remains that a certain cross section of the audience, such as teenagers or young adults prefer keeping themselves in the loop as far as Bollywood news or high profile parties are concerned. I don’t see it as trivializing the news factor in any way, since what qualifies as news and what doesn’t, is a very debatable point. The credibility aspect comes in question only when there is an overdose of Bollywood and lifestyle oriented news and everything else is sidelined. An instance would be of the Salman Khan –Vivek Oberoi controversy that Sahara Samay dismissed with an insignificant report, as we did not consider it newsworthy enough.”

Ghosh adds, “From Sahara Samay’s perspective, we prefer to keep our focus on hard news, political sound bytes and special segments on problem areas in the country. Mind you, segments like the ones we undertook on the North East and Kashmir do not figure high in GRPs unlike segments on metros like Mumbai (which invariably carry a good deal of lifestyle oriented content and fetch good numbers). But what’s important is that, we aren’t guilty of trading hard news for the glitz and the glamour.”

Laxmi Goel, Director, Zee News believes that ‘news’ is an extensive word and encompasses a variety of definitions. Goel says, “The traditional definition of what’s news is changing. While it is a fact that a good number of viewers seek to inform themselves about political developments, international events, corruption and crime when they tune into a news channel, it’s also true that a certain segment is hoping for Bollywood oriented news or lifestyle packed content. There is a demand for soft news and we are just catering to that demand. Why would this affect our credibility or dilute the news factor? It’s not as if news channels are abandoning everything else for star oriented content or high profile parties! We continue to maintain a balanced perspective.”

He adds, “Zee News continues to remain a news channel that’s focused on reflecting the realities of Indian existence. Whether those realities are political in character, economic, social, or lifestyle oriented, it’s immaterial.”

TV Today Network’s Chief Executive Officer, G Krishnan states that news channels are just aiming to provide a greater variety in their fare, and not everything needs to be severely political in character. Krishnan states candidly, “A newspaper hosts a whole range of stories and articles on entertainment and the film world. Does that dilute its credibility? Take any newspaper today and you will see sections dedicated to a variety of subjects, be it sports, social issues, politics, economic realities or fashion and entertainment. Whether you accept it or not, people are interested in knowing about the lifestyles of the rich and the famous and the controversies that envelope them. Aaj Tak does not attempt to highlight the so-called ‘trivial’ issues; we merely try to get a broader perspective on things and send across a complete package. But this doesn’t equate us to mass entertainment channels, as our core objective is not to entertain, but to depict reality.”

What qualifies as news? And what doesn’t? The law of economics states that if there is a demand, thou shall meet it! News channels are perhaps justified in their quest towards maintaining greater variety and addressing different cross sections. If it means covering wedding trousseaus and star wars, so be it.

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