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PUCL Bulletin, July 2003

Electronic Media:Right to information, transparency, and all that
- By Y.P. Chhibbar


All of a sudden there are a number of new news channels on the T.V. This has set the trend of a revamping exercise in the existing news channels also. This is not all. One of them the Sahara Group has, alongwith the National Sahara Samay, a number of regional channels. Zee News, English Headlines Today, Star News, NDTV 24 x 7, and NDTV India are all eating into each other's viewer-ship and also creating new viewers. There are some news channels in other languages like Malayalam, Telugu, Tamil. Of course there is DD.

There is a growing feeling that this is the right time to put into place some sort of structure and organisation in the working and content of TV journalism. Just as there is a Press Council for the print media, there should be an Electronic Media Council, or alternatively, the Press Council of India should be converted into a Media Council covering the print and electronic media both. It is necessary to prescribe and enforce some terms for recruitment practices, work ethics, and all that. A large number of institutions have introduced various types of journalism courses churning out young women and men with degrees and diplomas in their hands looking for job openings. True to the spirit of free enterprise, the channels have started exploiting the aspiring and unemployed youth.

It seems time now to make the viewers a partner in the give and take of news. Every channel should have a regular programme every day responding to comments and views of the viewers. This is very necessary since the comment or the view of an anchor is not final. It may even be out of context. It is very interesting that though there are a number of Hindi news channels, most of them are dominated by anchors and reporters who do not seem to be at home with Hindi. Sometimes they don't even understand a response given in Hindi!

Much has been made of "the look of the channel". What should be given greater importance are probably the reports, the look of the studio, the mannerism of the anchors and news reporters, the rapport that they establish with the viewers. A sleek studio and smartly dressed anchors looking as if they were coming straight from a dry cleaner look like space station characters. The common people of India feel a sort of relationship with them if their dress, mannerism, and presentation is relaxed. "Designer clothes from Rohit Bal", "hair styled by Javed Habeeb", and "dress code of Birla corporates" can divorce the channel from the common people.
It is interesting to know that no channel, Hindi and/or English, seems to have paid any attention to language and pronunciation. One was amused to note that when the President of Iran was visiting and was the Chief Guest at Republic Day Parade, different anchors and reporters of the same channel were pronouncing his name differently.

Similarly no editors of a Channel seem to notice that "Sushri Mayawati" has become "Susri Mayawati" that "Kshetra" has become "Chhetra". The most interesting is the case of the nuktaa. The purists in Hindi Literature always abhor the use of nuktaa, since it is used in Urdu. The average 'Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan' patriot has a mindset that identifies Urdu with Pakistan. One does not know whether their patriotism blinds them or they are ignorant of the fact that Urdu was born and brought up in the streets of Delhi and Lucknow. Secondly, spoken Hindi cannot ignore the nuktaa otherwise, they end up writing 'nyuuz' as 'nyuuj' in Hindi. One is waiting for an anchor or a reporter to pronounce 'Zee News' as 'G News' in Hindi. Spoken language and literary language are two different things.

Anchors on some channels indulge in tête-à-tête as if they were conversing in a drawing room. Where the opinion of a specialist or an expert is needed, undergraduate tête-à-tête is ridiculous. Further, we have to remember that TV is a very powerful and sensitive medium. Millions of youngsters who watch the programmes, news or entertainment, on the small screen, pick up attitudes, facts, mannerism, and even pronunciation from there. They even have their screen icons amongst anchors and newsreaders. It is, therefore, necessary to pay attention to what is said on the screen and how it is said. It is noticed that while conversing with experts or talking to experts or officials on the phone, anchors address them by their first name. This is not always desirable. Addressing a DIG or a minister by his/her first name is not appropriate. Apart from this, there is the strange practice of using the suffix "Ji" as a prefix in conversation. This was probably started by some channel and is spreading everywhere. Even when anchors talk to their reporters they prefix and suffix "Ji" to their name!

Perhaps a brief comment on the contents of entertainment channels in Hindi would not be out of the place. Critics have all noticed that Indian women get up in the morning with mascara on, that all the stories concern families living in palaces, so on and so forth. We would like to mention two different issues. One is, and this is partly applicable to the news channels also, that the channels fight shy of even mentioning the phrase human rights. Some channels have programmes depicting cases of Human Rights but they are afraid of labeling them so. Sahara Manoranjan is the only exception. This channel is going to complete 100 episodes of a programme wherein a well known film director gives an introduction and uses the HR word without any hesitation.

The second thing is that all the serials are based on the stories of Hindu families. There are perhaps only two exceptions, one serial on 'Z TV' and the other on Sahara Manoranjan. Both of these have themes of a minority culture. Apart from these two serials there is, in Hindi, no serial based on the lives and travails of the families belonging to minority communities. This is not all. Very few producers imagine friends, neighbours, etc., of the characters, belonging to minority communities

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