Sucheta Dalal :Going down the tubes
Sucheta Dalal

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Going down the tubes  

March 11, 2010

 Apni auqaat nahi bhoolna chahiye.” If you think that these are words lifted out of a very bad Hindi flick, circa 1964—when the village headman comes thundering down on the protagonist who has finally mustered up the courage (after copious amounts of alcohol, endless circumambulations around trees and other assorted inane activities) to ask Roop Kumar Narain Singh Thakur (or some such suitable name) for the hand of his daughter—you have another think coming.

According to a lawsuit filed by business channel Bloomberg-UTV, rival CNBC TV18 aired this sentence on 4 March 2010 during its ‘Bazaar’ segment. Bloomberg alleges that its rival has accused it of “copying”, “cheating” and “lying” about its viewership ratings on the day of the announcement of the Union Budget.

Moneylife has in its possession a copy of the lawsuit which has been slapped on CNBC TV18 by Bloomberg-UTV. While the lengthy defamation notice goes on to describe—in great detail—about the alleged “accusations and representations” of CNBC TV18 against Bloomberg-UTV, our objective here is not to comment on the merits (or shortcomings) of the case, since the matter will eventually become sub-judice.


However, one cannot help wonder if this case is just part of a wider malaise that seems to have gripped the Indian television industry as a whole. Enough and more has been written on the no-holds-barred battles that are being fought between various TV channels—across genres—to grab viewership.

These skirmishes, somehow, don’t prevent the same talking heads from appearing on ‘live’ news capsules across various channels—one has to hand it these various spokespersons, they seem to flit in and out of various newsrooms in the span of a few minutes, (almost being in two places at the same time), mouthing the same platitudes, delivering the same slogans and flogging the same ideologies. And shouting down the same opponents. As far as the viewer is concerned, no, she is not spoilt for choice.

The financials of various broadcast houses are swimming in deep seas of red, as readers of Moneylife will know. But when will the wake-up call come about? Many viewers would agree that the battle for viewership has caused a steady deterioration in the quality of programming, across channels and cutting across all genres. So much so, people are fondly looking back on those days when we only had State-run programming—remember, there was no need for a remote control in the heady days of our ‘mixed’ economy? Even the latest Chinese remotes cannot keep up with the abuse that the ‘change channel(s)’ button is currently facing, as you read this, in a number of Indian households.

As far as ‘TV journalistic ethics’ go, this must be the biggest three-word oxymoron ever. News is not being reported, it is being manufactured. To call the soaps currently being aired ‘operas’ is surely not cricket.

When a smug anchor looks at you straight in the eye (or rather, camera) and proclaims, six hours in advance: “At 7.30pm, we’ll have ‘breaking news’ from our studio (or ‘journalist’) at (insert suitable Indian city/town/village/taluka/district/slum here),” one cannot but wonder if the world is actually more surreal than what our mystics make it out to be.

The great Indian television saga has been playing out for more than a quarter of a century now. Risking the taint of schadenfreude, one can only sit back and watch the drama unfolding before our eyes, and hope that the show picks up. Else, the audience will pack up and leave, with a poor score wailing in the background, even before the credits start flashing on the screen.  
— Devarajan Mahadevan

-- Sucheta Dalal