Indian news anchors: Judge, jury and executioner

Ashali Varma

Recently, a group of Americans were shown Arnab Goswami’s prime time debates. Their reactions were telling. One viewer just could not understand why everyone was shouting at each other. Another American said it sounded anarchic and nothing newsworthy was discussed. Another found it bizarre and refused to believe that it happened every night.

The truth is that Arnab and others who debate endlessly every night are not really news anchors. The first thing one learns as a journalist is that media must inform, educate and investigate to give its people news as it is happening without bias. The moment bias steps in then it is not news, it is one man’s opinion or views.

For instance, the Lalitgate story. It is being debated to death for the last two weeks even when nothing new has come up. It seems the media wants heads to roll as if it were the judge, jury and executioner in the case. This is not news. This is trial by media, which is overstepping its boundaries. It is taking over the function of the executive and the judiciary in our democracy.

I was in US when the Monica Lewinsky story broke. It made headlines after all the President of the United States was involved but even then the media did not go into disruptive debates, with political party spokespersons. It was always civilized and eminent lawyers were asked to share their views on whether it was a case for impeachment of the President.

They did have short sections entitled Crossfire when a person from the Left (Democrat) and one from the Right (Republican) gave their points of view and debated the issues in a civilized manner.

Unfortunately, most of our English anchors act as if they really are powerful enough to derail democracy and this is a very dangerous and real threat. Sentences are taken out of context; the whole truth never comes out; people who have come to debate are shouted down; anchors are rude and don’t let even the invitees speak. In short, very little is achieved and viewers get turned off.

Every channel claims to have the highest ratings and is the most watched channel. How can this be? Are they living in ‘Cuckoo land’? Surely their egos are not so inflated as to believe this obvious lie? How can every channel be the most watched? It is almost as if they will go to any lengths to get ratings and viewership. They will ruin reputations, sensationalize rumours even before confirmed as facts, get anyone to justify their stance and make a mockery of journalism.

This is not news. This is what the Romans did in 2nd Century BC for entertainment when they got slaves to slug it out in their coliseums. This is what our most famous anchors have reduced news too and to think they get paid handsomely for such displays of arrogance.

As a fellow journalist, I am ashamed of what prime time news in our country has come down to — slug fests. Our television coverage makes India look unprofessional, veering on crazy to the outside world. Our TV anchors seems quite out of touch with reality and their own profession. More tabloid junk is presented as news then the critical issues of the day.

It would be good for our highly paid anchors to remember that with freedom comes responsibility and it is time they took a step back and stopped being judge, jury and executioner. Investigate, report and inform and never let your prejudices show because then you can no longer call yourselves journalists. You cannot become newsmakers yourself, you need to report the truth not debate it and then move on. India is a huge country and there are many newsworthy items that are simply ignored because tabloid sensationalism sells or so they think. They are in for a rude shock as more and more people are tuning off and getting their news from print media and the internet.


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