Monday, September 25, 2023
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TV news is 90% politicians, 5% experts, 5% anchors. UP coverage is finally changing that

One of the more endearing absurdities of our beloved news channels is their weakness for self praise where no praise is due.

Wednesday morning, no sooner had Aparna Yadav, daughter-in-law of Samajwadi Party’s ‘netaji’ Mulayam Singh Yadav, stepped before the cameras at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi, than the news channels were onto her, announcing the news of her defection: ‘Biggest Setback for Akhilesh’ (Times Now), daughter-in-law ‘snubs’ Yadav family (India Today), ‘Bahu jumps ship’ (CNN News18), ‘BJP goes for the big family breach’ (NDTV 24×7).

And then came the accolades: Times Now claimed it had a ‘scoop’; ‘India Today told you Sunday’, boasted India Today; CNN News18 asserted that it was the ‘First channel to report’, while Republic TV said its ‘newsbreak confirmed’. And all of this playing out at the same time—delightful, isn’t it?

What’s even more absurd is that they don’t bother to highlight what is truly praiseworthy. In this instance, it is their coverage of Uttar Pradesh as it sets off for assembly elections. Many channels – Hindi mostly – have correspondents travelling through UP and talking to people. Admittedly, this is not new: Previous elections saw a similar effort. However, that makes it no less noteworthy. It’s the best part of the election coverage.

The reason for saying so is that television news is usually 90 per cent about politicians, 5 per cent about ‘expert’ views and 5 per cent about prime time anchors’ opinions. So when it acknowledges the public, devotes space and time to what people think and say, we need to say ‘thank you’.

So thank you, television news channels.

Also read: It’s the season of Kaun Banega Imaandaar as TV channels interview Yogi, Akhilesh Yadav

Thank you for talking to people

Thank you for giving us a slice of real life and letting us hear from the people. This is so much more valuable than listening to party spokespersons and anchors spout their ‘wisdom’ about the polls — people allow us to sense the mood in the state far better.

Thank you for letting us listen in to the man in Bhadohi who told it like it is: Muslims do vote for Hindus (in Samajwadi Party, Congress, etc) and so we would vote for the BJP too if it didn’t play divisive politics. Issue don’t matter (in elections), he added, all that matters is ‘my identity’ (NewsNation).

Thank you for visiting Bulandshahr and a Khurja pottery plant where West Bengal immigrants of 15 years said the Yogi Adityanath government was doing good; where women were more frank and said all they care about is having a job and earning a wage; where a customer at the mithaiwala said, “Yahan, Yogi ka chal raha…” and another thought it would be “BJP wapsi” (Aaj Tak).

Thank you, ‘Bhaiyya ji kahin’ (News18 India) for taking to task the pradhan in a village of Mathura where everything was submerged and the roads were riddled with potholes; for talking to the woman doing her MSc, who said tuitions had stopped, and another girl who said the condition in the village was very poor.

Thank you News 24, for taking us to Hapur, where a Dalit man said there had to be a change of government but he had to think hard about whom to vote for. And NewsNation for going to Baghpat where a young man claimed that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had eliminated crime, so much so that young women could walk around talking on the phone without fear at night; where another said unemployment was the biggest concern, and a more thoughtful elderly man said the biggest issue was ‘insaniyat’— being humane. Oh wow.

Grateful to meet the people in a Meerut village; one said ‘change is necessary’, another, ‘Yogi is the best’ while a third felt prices and jobs matter (India TV).

What are we the people saying about the UP polls? Seems like it’s advantage BJP but there are also a lot of dissatisfied voters out there.

Also read: Lesson from 2021 is that TV news sees a lot ‘ulta’ — Covid, Bengal election, farmers’ protest

TV has predictions for you

Viewers are well advised to watch these ‘vox populi’ ground reports rather than the raucous debates between local politicians across channels – ABP News hosts these frequently – where all that happens is that politicians yell, their supporters holler and we hear little.

Are opinion polls more accurate? Difficult to say but remember they predicted a very close fight in Bengal in 2021 between the ruling Trinamool Congress and the BJP, which was way off target. So it’s a tricky affair.

This hasn’t intimidated news channels that have gone ahead with their predictions for UP. On Monday, polls on India TV and Republic TV predicted comfortable victories for the BJP – while India TV’s estimate was more conservative at 230-235 for the BJP, Republic TV saw it winning 252-272—possibly the biggest haul across TV opinion polls so far. Last week, polls on Times Now and ABP News pretty much agreed with India TV. In fact, all polls have the BJP leading in Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhand too. Wonder if anyone would dare predict otherwise….

We need to hear from the people in these states, too, to form a more accurate assessment—will the channels oblige or are they fixated on the jewel in the crown, UP?

Lastly, we know news channels are desperately seeking viewers but must they do what they accuse politicians of doing, namely, play the communal card? Two headlines tell you to what lengths they are willing to clickbait you: ‘Ganna v/s Jinnah in Western UP?’(Times Now); ‘Hindu ke khilaf Mahagathbandhan?’ (News18 India).

Views are personal.

Source: The Print

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