Battle for eyeballs giving news credibility a knock: TV journos

MUMBAI: Is news entertainment? The answer is a big No. But when the battle is for eyeballs, when ‘fun’ seems to be the only currency for stickiness on TV, when news degenerates into entertainment, honest journalism and credibility of a TV network is the first casualty.

This verdict by a panel of Indian and overseas media personalities was delivered at the session on ‘Changing face of television news in India’ at the opening day today of FICCI-FRAMES 2008.

The panelists — TV Today Network CEO G Krishnan, NDTV India executive editor Sanjay Ahirwal, CNN correspondent Satinder Bindra, Sahara Samay vice president Rajiv K. Bajaj and Euronews director, worldwide distribution Jill Grinda, shepherded by NDTV associate editor Vishnu Som, put their thinking caps on to debate what’s news and what’s entertainment.

Som set the ball rolling by posing the question: What constitutes news? Is there a standing, static definition for news or is it open-ended? The whole issue, he said, was of TV content.

Krishnan pointed out that today hard breaking news coexists with ‘tabloid’ coverage on television. He highlighted the 4 C’s of news television: cricket, cinema, comedy and crime, where ‘fun’ seems to be the only guiding factor for grabbing eyeballs. There is, however, space for both hard news and pure entertainment on TV networks and space for all channels to compete.

Ahirwal opined that TV newsgathering is expensive business. “Whether it is reportage of the Kargil war or the welcome accorded by Bhutan to democracy yesterday, the bottomline is that most of the networks are not ready to spend the amounts required for journalists to reach out to remote places. At the end of the day, he said, people want honest journalism, which most prime time networks seem unable to offer,” he said.

Bajaj spoke of the paradigm shift in the way news is perceived during the last five or six years. Citing the example for of the story of ‘Prince’, the evacuation of a little boy from a borewell by the Indian army troops and the evacuation of 4 lakh Indians from Beirut by Indian naval ships, Bajaj said, the former grabbed the eyeballs while the latter went almost unreported. “The truth is that with the onset of prosperity, the aspirational effect has come into play. People want to be titillated and want to know what affects them most,” he pointed out.

Bindra said news has to be informative, educational and inspirational to goad the authorities into thinking and action, with credibility being sacrosanct. Journalists, he said, have to exercise news judgement and in this context, wondered whether there was need now for a news ombudsman to guide the decision of how to report in a dispassionate and objective manner.

Grinda said Euronews presents unfiltered news to its viewers, leaving it to them to form their own judgments.

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