If there is one thing everyone who watches television news agrees on it is that these channels are highly watchable but they are not news.The average television viewer has an extremely poor opinion of their quality, objectivity, news sense. Indeed, most viewers are enraged by what passes for news—'sensational' is the word most commonly used to describe TV news.
Still, despite all the impassioned criticism, we continue to watch our favourite news channels, always wanting to know 'what happened', even as we doubt their ability and willingness to tell us in plain, simple language. Each time we switch on a news channel, it is with hope and each time we switch off or switch to another channel, it is with that hope belied and a sense of intense frustration. More often than not, we end up pulling at anything we can lay our hands on and screaming, 'What's wrong with them?'
It is to answer precisely this question that reading Making News in India is important. The author, Somnath Batabyal, a former broadcast news journalist, tries to understand why a TV news broadcaster gives us the 'news' it does.
In his own words, his approach is that of 'an insider and outsider'. An insider who uses his experience at NDTV where he worked for a few years both in Kolkata and in New Delhi, to work the system from within as a 'practitioner'; an outsider who brings his training as an academic (he is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Heidelberg and completed his PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London) to observe and analyse the system as a ‘researcher’. In his Foreword,Sam Miller, formerly of BBC, describes the result of Batabyal’s labours as the ‘first ethnography of an Indian newsroom’.
Batabyal conducted his study of Indian TV news at Star News and its Bengali news channel, Star Ananda. Star News is owned by MCCS, part of the Rupert Murdoch empire. He says it was the perfect place to ‘observe the transnational dynamics of a global media business’ at work in an 'Indian language environment’. One year’s research was divided equally between Mumbai and Kolkata, the respective headquarters of Star News and Star Ananda, both 24x7 news channels, the first in Hindi, the other in Bengali.In that ...
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