There are several reasons for the heightened entertainment quotient in television news of late. The drop in quality of not only the reportage but also the delivery mechanism of the news has not been a sudden transformation. Surprising as it might be, this degradation could be a result of something called the nostalgia pendulum. There is a popular notion that it usually takes 30 years for a segment of consumers of a specific kind of culture to become creators of similar content. This is also the reason for a spike in 1990s’ nostalgia across films and television and while the same is true for television news as well, the result is not as pleasing.
Television news started getting accused of being increasingly packaged as entertainment in the early to mid-1980s when Van Gordon Sauter took over operations of CBS News. Sauter’s techniques included eye-catching graphics, stylised packaging, and an all-out promotion of highly paid stars pumped engird into the station and intensified the competition. Consequently, critics felt that the focus had shifted from journalism to superficiality, and this phenomenon came to India a few years later. In the early 1990s, the onslaught of satellite television broke the shackles of governmental control over news across India.
It wouldn’t be incorrect to say that while home entertainment blossomed, it was the news that displayed the greatest change. The early years of Indian new-age television news were driven by who could better convey the information. Soon the mantra became outdo the competition by any means possible. The last decade was marked by in-fighting between the generation that created such television news in India. A constant change in the industry led to each one trying to outmanoeuvre the other. This explains why a few of them began to run amok to grab the eyeballs.
Half of the last decade also saw the generation that grew up consuming such television news claim its space as creators. For a brief period, both tried to co-exist but this is the year where a critical realignment that had been in the making for the past few months has finally happened. Forget the likes of Bigg Boss as the big daddy of reality television—the TV news—has decided to take back the viewer at all costs. The newsworthiness of anything is driven by the degree of ‘serious entertainment’ it can drum up. Looking at television news today, one is reminded of what Christopher Hitchens said of the American media, although it would hold here as well—‘There is a deep belief that insincerity is better than no sincerity at all.’
Film historian and bestselling author