No one would have ever thought that we would get to witness a panelist on a live television debate munch on her lunch happily, while a news anchor shouts at the top of his lungs. But here we are. Recently, actor Kasthuri Shankar had appeared on a television debate on a certain channel that claims to find answers to questions that the nation wants to know. Apparently, the debate was centred around the fiery issue of nepotism in Bollywood. But Shankar, in all her glory in that tiny TV window, could be seen eating while the anchor carried on with his one-sided debate. All this on a national news channel, mind you.
Shankar later took to Twitter, to clarify, “Nothing to do with confidence. I spent 60 minutes watching Arnab in hyper mode, He wasn’t gonna let me talk anyways, so I left and grabbed lunch. but forgot to sign off skype. Apologies to everyone for the mess up !” Well, that’s as far as the reputation of news debates go today in India.
It has now become a norm for news channels in India to conduct comedy on prime time TV. Last week, a clip of the “national affairs expert” of a certain news channel began circulating, in which he can be seen smoking a cigarette mid-debate. And then the infamous faux pas by an army veteran earlier this month, where he used an unrepeatable offensive against another panelist, who had apparently touched a raw nerve. These incidents and shouting matches on TV often inspire a volley of memes and GIFs – an indication of how seriously the entire nation takes them, but then isn’t this a matter of pity?
Why do we shouting matches in the name of debates?
News channels and television debates don’t serve much purpose now, other than pushing political agendas and fanning the egos of their puppet masters. There is little to no credibility in the news some channels show. And even when they are credible, why should anyone believe them if they are shouting the news to drive home a certain point? A journalist aptly labelled such news channels recently as “noise channels.” After all, when the title of the debate reads “The Big Fight,” what else can one expect?
The saddest outcome of this degradation of national news channels has been the divide it has caused between people: one half seems to find nothing wrong in these shouting matches, while the other half is so far gone into hopelessness that it chooses to ignore the toxic agenda being peddled. Neither of these routes is the solution to revive journalism. We must question these news channels for the content they deliver to us, and not through jokes, but through serious discourse and collective outrage against them – not physical, but intellectual.
Quite a few people are taking steps in the right direction against these channels by refusing to appear on their so-called news debates and calling out their anchors on social media.
News Channel Debates Breed Sexism
On a live debate in 2015, two supposed religious leaders – a man and a woman – actually got into a fistfight in the newsroom. To this day, the channel has this video proudly displayed on their YouTube channel with a sensationalist headline. Unfortunately, several such examples exist, and for the audience, they are nothing more than entertainment.
And in a country where news channels have become boxing matches, sexism on these debates seems but expected. In 2018, on a NewsX debate that was discussing the Padmavat controversy, Karni Sena supporter Surajpal Amu called news anchor Sanjana Chowhan “baby.” Befittingly, Chowhan gave Amu an earful for passing that lewd remark, saying, “This is no way to speak to a woman. How dare you call me baby?” – a rare instance of a news anchor standing up for what’s right.
And then in her recent appearance on a news channel, Kangana Ranaut called actors Taapsee Pannu and Swara Bhasker “B-grade,” – a classic example of a woman pulling down another woman. And the anchor didn’t object to this even once.
When The News Debates Are One-Sided, What’s The Point?
A ‘debate,’ by definition, means a formal discussion that invites differing opinions from more than one person. Clearly, TV news channels today haven’t got the memo. Debates, in their dictionary, mean moderators siding with one opinion, screaming when someone doesn’t agree with them, panelists abusing other panelists, and inciting hate against certain communities.
The big question to ask is – for whom are they making this content? Who is the target audience of such news debates? How are they finding the courage to continue such debates? Moreover, why are the central legal and administrative authorities not taking any action against these channels, despite their blatant and bold hate speech?
TV news channels and news debates are still thriving because people are watching them. A large chunk of Indian population still relies on television as their main source of news consumption – some unwillingly, and some willingly. They will not criticise these channels and their anchors. The onus of calling them out and raising a voice against them falls on our shoulders – those who can see their faults. Because honestly, shouting matches are a sport no one should be watching.
Views expressed are the author’s own.
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