News as entertainment

The media industry for long has held the audiences’ demand responsible for whatever it wanted to peddle in the name of programming.

Published: 05th May 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 05th May 2019 10:43 AM   |  A+A-

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The media industry for long has held the audiences’ demand responsible for whatever it wanted to peddle in the name of programming. It would like you to believe that the mindless fare dominating the airwaves is because you asked for it. Consequently, you rejecting it and moving elsewhere, too, is, in a way, you asking for more of it. The powers that be within the media industry refused to acknowledge the manner in which the viewer took to any platform (read online piracy) that gave them what they craved and later even agreed to pay more than what they traditionally shelled out for the local cable wallah for platforms that legitimately offered what they wanted (read Netflix, Amazon Prime, et al) as a sign of change. 

In the west, this shift marked as the beginning of a new ‘golden age’ of television. People finally getting what they asked for made it more impressive. In India, this tectonic shift is yet to seep into the minds of the trade, which continues to see this as some fad.

The recent announcement of the online streaming giant Netflix about the new ‘local’ content it had commissioned for India is one of the first indicators of a gear-shift. Irrespective of the reason behind what got commissioned or what was overlooked, it wouldn’t be incorrect to suggest that local demand was taken into consideration before the projects were greenlit.

Simply put, locally produced content on streaming platforms would change the way the audience defines entertainment. Such a development is bound to change the approach that the industry has towards films as well. After all, how would you possibly lure audiences from binge-watching content that resonates with the local viewer? All this is great but what about the most significant chunk of content that an average Indian viewer seems to consume where they have absolutely no say —television news? 

Unless you have been residing on a different planet, you would be more than aware of how television news in India has come to become synonymous with entertainment. On the one hand, the fiction that Indians consume is filled with realism and the documentaries, too, have transformed, thanks to great strides in the storytelling aspect, whereas on the other hand, news has become more ludicrous.

Films like Soni where a short-fused policewoman and her level-headed female boss grapple with gender issues in their own lives while fighting crimes against women in Delhi or Delhi Crime, the seven-part series based on the heinous 2012 Delhi gang-rape case, seem to be more honest to the facts they fictionalise compared to most news shows reporting such realities. 

A decade ago, the late Christopher Hitchens derided mainstream media for making the news too entertaining. Hitchens was convinced that the news companies were continually asking the viewers to participate but at the same time ensuring that they did not get what they wanted to see. This attitude is visible in the way news comes to us.

But the more worrying part is how a specific opinion is being given in the place of reportage, and, at times, shockingly enough, while the news is still being read out. The presence of dramatic sound effects and background score accompanying the news reeks of the element of ‘entertainment’ overpowering everything else. The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks. If we can demand realism in entertainment, wouldn’t reality become much better with a little less nautanki?

Gautam Chintamani

Film historian and bestselling author

gautam@chintamani.org

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