When I went to college, I started watching the news on cable networks, especially The Newshour with Arnab Goswami. It used to be my primary source of information, it helped me form my opinions about politics and society among other things. To further whet my appetite, I subscribed a newspaper. As days passed by, I began to feel a dissonance between the two sources. Sometimes, I even came across articles that were diametrically opposite to the ones on television.
Whereas the newspapers, for all their deficiencies, had proper demarcations of its news and opinion sections, cable news channels had no such thing. Every story was so laden with opinions of politicians that the actual facts seem to fade in the background. I used to watch these news debates every day and it used to amuse me. Gradually, it became painful to watch. I couldn’t take it anymore. So, I stopped watching cable news. There were too much of opinions masquerading as news.The very notion of the press as the fourth pillar of our democracy subsided subsequently.
Cable news is a highly passive medium. Newspapers, on the other hand, are an active medium of information. This seems at odds with our conventional wisdom that television reports as things happen and papers aggregate everything for another day. Psychologically, I think it is not the case. A person reading a newspaper has a very conscious knowledge and control of the material he is going through, he can change the page when he/she wants.
But isn’t this even truer while watching cable news networks for we can, at all time, switch channels? I don’t think so. When people are given a hypnotic dose of opinions at appeal to their individuality, their deepest fear, and their wildest emotions – things that push all the wrong buttons, they are definitely less bound to push the right button on the remote.
So, here is my plea to cable news networks –
You have hammered down debates to high-decibel knee-jerk reactionary talk. You have become a personification of everything that is wrong with our public discourse – uncivilised cacophony, uninformed rhetoric, and a disillusioned public. By allowing the loudest voices, however hollow, to speak freely while suppressing the rational calming ones, you have caricatured yourselves to an extended public relations arm of the political elite and the corporates. It is an obscene theater of horror at its best.
Most of you have become 24*7 biased and relentless propaganda delivery organisations under the rubric of news networks. And the worst part of it all is that we desperately need you. We never needed your help more immediately. Right now, you are helping the politicians, the corporates, the ideologues, the partisan pundits and the like. You are an integral part of their strategies, so much so that you have no conscious awareness of it. You have become partisan hacks. The people do not swim in the same ideological soup that you do. They have logic, you know.
You are in a unique position, you have such a great opportunity to get politics changed, to change the status quo – from marketing and strategy to real policies that ‘impact’ people (if you still think they exist). But in the bitter and hurtful pursuit of ratings, you have yielded yourself hostage to the political cacophony that defines our times.
When you say that you hold politicians’ feet to the fire, that is deceivingly disingenuous. While you pamper those who align with your views, you denigrate those who do not as if they have no right have a different view. This pursuit of a rectilinear propagation of thought is not only against the values of our constitution, it borders a similar disposition that our freedom fighters fought so hard against.
You’ll say that you do debates where you have representatives from each side and they express their views. If this is a debate, then God help us! You are not a debate show. To have a proper debate would be great. Of course, BJP representatives believe Modi is doing a good job, an AAP spokesperson believes Kejriwal is doing a great job and an INC guy believes Rahul Gandhi will do a great job – they are supposed to do that. But are they really making honest arguments?
All you do is treat inconsequential gossip as a serious concern. You have a responsibility to the public discourse, to affect practise and policy, and you fail miserably at it and we are all in a bad shape for that. So, stop hurting us!