This post provoked by a brief conversation with twitter.com/surekhapillai, who lamented that too many of us were ranting and raving about the quality of news channels without suggesting what they should be doing.
I rant about a lot of things. One of the things I rant about the most is the news channel space. I have often said that they are irresponsible, that they are rabble-rousers, that they look for short-term gains at the cost of credibility, that they have no ‘identity’, that they are dangerously provocative, that they are unnecessarily loud, they are careless.
Minutes after the Mangalore crash news hit the airwaves, I was shocked by the English news channels. Channels were trying to fix blame and responsibility with little of no knowledge of the facts. Pilot error, unsafe runway, bad weather, a combination, whatever.
I tweeted about it, and said. "News channels: Give me the news late and give me accurate and responsible news. I’ll respect you more and be more loyal to you (or words to such effect)."
There was a lively debate on Twitter in minutes, with a lot of tweeters, too, being totally irresponsible. @surekhapillai asked me what the news channels should do as opposed to what they should not do.
I suggested that they should NOT do anything that any individual viewer (John Doe) found uncomfortable. That’s it. That, in sum and substance, was my grand advice.
I’ve spent some time thinking about it when the fellow-tweeter told me that my advice was just not enough.
Here’s a list (and this is a working list) of all the things I would NOT do if I OWNED a news TV channel:
1. Stop the shouting. Shouting is a sign of poor upbringing and culture. Even someone poorly brought up is uncomfortable with the shouting though he or she might not know why.
2. Stop being shrill, stop impolite interruptions, especially cutting off people at the other end of a remote connection. I’ve seen guests being ignored, being cut off, being interrupted. There’s a sense of fairness which is disturbed by this and I immediately feel resentment against the anchor/moderator. Last night, watching Face The Nation on CNN IBN, for example, I was mortified by Sagarika Ghose ignoring panelists as it pleased her, cutting off panelists as it pleased her, interrupting panellists as it pleased her.
3. Stop irresponsible and incorrect summations. Very news TV. At the end of the program, the anchor says, "so what emerges is that the panel feels that though....., XXX is guilty’"... whoa. No one said that, if I recollect all that the panel said. This pisses me off greatly as there is a suspicion that the channel or the moderator has an agenda. I instantly start distrusting this anchor - and the channel. Last night, again on Face The Nation, Ghose's summations were completely against the statements being made by panelists. Arnab Goswami does this every time he is on air.
4. Do not presume your viewer to be a moron. Your airline expert a) better be an airline expert and must presume his viewers are not fools. "The flaps are down, which slows down the aircraft as it comes in to land. LOOK at the flaps here....". Thank you, Einstein. I didn't know that. Yesterday, Karma Paljor informed me that the Dubai-Pune flight dropped 15,000 meters in a few minutes. The flight must have descended from heaven! The aviation expert is only one example. It doesn’t help if he is called an expert in other domains as well. Why call him an expert? If he was just another anchor or newsreader, I would have been fine with his lack of expertise, b) the same is true for panelists. You cannot have panelists who are experts in multiple areas. The same lack of credibility is immediate.
5. Stop forcing John Doe to say thing that you want him to say. This happens every single time you do a vox pop. Leading questions, questions which are miles long forcing only a yes or no answer. Normally, it takes me about 20 secs to figure out what 'headline' the reporter is heading the unfortunate victim to.
6. Do not try to become popular with guests and panellists. The channel must have a view and a stance – which can be proven to be wrong, if the panellists so decide.
7. Remember that your dotcom is an extension of the brand that is the channel. Do not treat it like an orphan. On the moring of the recent train accident, news.bbc.co.uk was more than ONE HOUR ahead of Indian news television websites. Similarly, the quality of subbing on both the dotcoms and the channels is pitiful. Spelling mistakes on the screen are as offputting as a mispronunciation by a newsreader.
There seems to be a misconception that viewers want the news served very quickly, even if the news is inaccurate, even if a few facts are wrong, even if names are misspelt. There seems to be another misconception that all problems that we face as a nation have to be solved by news channels themselves. That's rubbish. It's for the government to solve problems in their domain, it's for industry to solve problems in their's, and so on. News channels need to make the viewers aware that problems exist, to help the viewer take a position by becoming a platform for debate, analyse decisions with the help of (real) experts. But the problems, whatever they are, cannot be solved by news channels.
This is probably going to be a long discussion and this is the first ‘instalment’ on a big news channel debate. Join in with your thoughts, your constructive criticism, your suggestions for the news channels, your opinions, your rants. One request though. No personal attacks, as these WILL be deleted. I underline, no personal attacks. Criticism is ok, though.