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Indian TV News Anchors – Jack of All Trades

Let us sample some of these recent news stories:

“Indian army’s operations along the Indo-Myanmar border”

“Lalit Modi’s expose on Indian politicians”

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“Hooch tragedy in Maharashtra”

“Indian economy likely to grow in double digits by 2016”

These stories are from a wide spectrum of fields from defense to politics. From sports to social issues and economy. Common sense tells us that each of these topics need in-depth analyses and discussions.  Detailed understanding of these topics helps in giving viewers a platter of views and perspectives.

Unfortunately, Indian news channels have either failed to understand this or they take the viewers for granted. Viewers clearly understand that news anchors must be able to conduct debates. However, whats the need for having the same faces in panels for all discussions? Chitra Subramaniam, of the The News Minute, had coined a term for them – “G-37”. This includes the likes of Hartosh Bal, Kumar Ketkar, Kavita Krishnan and so on. Chances are that, we will find one or many of these faces talking about any topic under the sun. I fail to understand how a Kumar Ketkar can help viewers understand the complexities of Indian army’s operation in Myanmar. He may have a view – but so can I. Just few years of experience in journalism must not be the sufficient condition to be a panelist. We know that each of these members of G-37 talk in general terms. Rarely have they ever brought out a new perspective that altered the course of a discussion. Moreover, post May 2014, there seems to be just two views – Modi is wrong and Modi is right! Any or all of the events will be discussed so that the panelists end up falling in one of these two buckets.

Needless to say, there are some faces who know what they are talking – like a Maroof Raza or a Nitin Gokhale. People appreciate the fact that these two appear for discussions on defense or national security matters – and NEVER on other topics. It is indeed worth appreciating that Times Now have a designated position of “Strategic Affairs Expert” for Maroof Raza. In the same breadth, why do these TV news channels not have a “Chief PMO correspondent” for news from the PMO or a “Chief Legal Affairs Expert” for news that come from the high courts and Supreme Court? I am sure there are some folks in the background who analyze news for the anchors. According to me, there could only be two reasons why these folks aren’t on our TV screens: either the anchors are scared that they will lose the spotlight from an in-house expert OR the anchors think that the experts cannot break the news for the viewers to understand.

I cannot comment on the first reason. However, if the issue is about making the news palatable for viewers, I completely disagree. What the anchors do to make news palatable, is to bring a political angle to this. Identify a villain for the night and thrash him for 3 hours on prime time. The anchors can feel good about their herogiri, but news channels will continue their positioning as another entertainment channel. After all, why do viewers need to be look at all news items from the political prism? Also, aren’t these channels insulting the intelligence of the viewers?

Many commentators, often, bring out examples of how things are better in the West. To buttress my point, I would like to make a similar comparison. NBC News, a channel which has a political left stance, have the following positions (examples):

Capitol Hill Correspondent – Kelly O’Donnell

Chief Pentagon Correspondent – Jim Miklaszewski

National Investigative Correspondent – Michael Isikoff

Justice Department and the U.S. Supreme Court Correspondent – Pete Williams

Chief Science and Health Correspondent – Robert Bazell

Any news relating to a new revelation of a document that has been leaked/released has to go through the desk of the National Investigative Correspondent. This brings and builds credibility, not only within the news organization – but also among the viewers. This also avoids confusion during critical news breaks, where one channel reports 7 terrorists being killed and another 50 and the third one quoting hundreds. When the expert shows his face on TV screen, he will be held accountable for every word he says. People will judge whether he/she is indeed an expert! To some extent, this can also end this nonsense prevalent in Indian news organizations of “source based reporting”. This has been reduced to a joke on the social media recently – when Barkha Dutt began reporting on an email sent by one student from IIT Roorkee. Every time Barkha breaks a story now from an unnamed source, social media has a name for her source – “Ankit”. Barkha will remember this Ankit more than one Chaitanya Kunte.

Things have to change on TV news – many things. Right from bringing in experts, to letting every panelist complete his/her chain of thought, to covering wider range of topics. If the death of approx. 100 people due to hooch in Maharashtra does not turn heads of editors and appointments by a LG and Chief Minister in a municipality gets more prominence – the famous “moral compass” is surely lost. More so, when these star anchors preach on social media on how news need to be covered – as if they have nothing to do with media. Like these, on another important story that has been ignored by the national media:

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