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  • What Indian TV news anchors get wrong

    Posted On August 23, 2020

    By Karan Thapar

    I could tell it was Pertie. The phone has an insistent quality when he calls. He can also let it ring, ring and ring. So the second I heard it I immediately answered. Pertie had a pressing question connected to Rajiv Tyagi’s death. “Don’t television anchors care about what they’re doing to their guests? It seems this guy was so dreadfully treated he got a heart attack and died!”

     

    A long pause followed but I kept silent. I wasn’t sure if Pertie was baiting me or voicing a genuine concern. When he next spoke it was to ask a disarmingly simple question. “What’s the purpose of these discussions?”

     

    The simple answer is to elicit information, in a clear and intelligible form, so that viewers are acquainted with multiple facets of the issue being discussed. No anchor would disagree. The problem is how you go about it. This is where many television discussions fall apart.

     

    If the aim is to get different people to explain their differing viewpoints then you must spend time talking to each of them to explore their thinking. In turn that means you must know their positions and have thought carefully of questions that will either reveal their thinking or intelligently challenge it. Otherwise you can’t draw them out.

     

    What many anchors do – usually because they haven’t done their research – is ask one guest if he agrees with another and get them to quarrel. No doubt this generates heat and can even create a spectacle but if it’s light you should be shedding, raising the temperature only adds to the confusion and the cacophony. May be not heart attacks but blood pressures can certainly rise!

     

    I suppose Pertie’s next question was obvious. “So, if different people express different viewpoints how do you come to a conclusion?” Trying to force one is the second mistake many anchors make. A television discussion should air different ways of looking at a subject leaving it to the audience to decide which they agree with. The audience will come to its own conclusion. It’s not for the anchor to contrive one.

     

    “But there are many anchors who pummel their guests until they agree with him. Are you saying that’s the wrong way of conducting a discussion?” Actually, Pertie knew that’s precisely what I meant. It wasn’t confirmation he wanted so much as criticism of the anchors he had in mind. But no sooner did I sidestep this pitfall then he bowled another googly.

     

    “Shouldn’t there be scope in a television discussion for guests to contradict or reject a viewpoint? Otherwise it could be a case of four people talking to the anchor and not to each other.” Of course, there should be. Otherwise the programme would be sterile. But any interaction between the guests can only happen after adequately exploring their individual viewpoints. Equally importantly, it has to happen in a structured way. The aim should be to explore their strengths and weaknesses in a decorous and civilised manner. Not in a verbal mahabharat. Yet this is what many anchors not only prefer but actively encourage.

     

    They believe it increases viewership. If it does, it’s very definitely of the wrong sort. Current affairs discussions should be intended for those who want to learn and understand. Not people seeking entertainment.

     

    “So are you saying anchors ought to be concerned about the quality of their viewership rather than its quantity?” This time Pertie’s question did take me aback. He was spot on. To be honest, I hadn’t thought it through to the same extent.

     

    “Yes”, I mumbled feebly. The BBC and CNN may want large audiences but they don’t pander to them by driving down the quality of their discussions. This is why you gain when you watch one of their conversations. Ours can leave you confused, confounded and with an aching head.

     

    “Well, now you know why I don’t watch television.” With that he bid me a cheerful adieu and put the phone down.


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