Trouble from the tube

The retired senior army official must have been at least 70 years. He was on the telly as an experienced hand in Indo-Pak cross-border combat and an expert in military matters to discuss the murder and mutilation of two Indian jawans. Naturally, the expectation of a few pearls of wisdom and insight from him is not out of place. But all he did was rave and rant in high-decibel, albeit hollow, words that would leave normal folk and novices with a superiority complex! Ditto with many of his expert ex-colleagues on the various channels. The viewer almost felt he could now quite easily launch a missile or lob a bomb across the LoC!

It would be unfair to place the entire blame on those weary shoulders. This is what TV debates, wherein noises drown voices, do to all such experts who take part either in earnest eagerness to share their knowhow or owing to an itch for a few minutes of fame. Respectability, reason and restraint are not prime on prime time. Maybe, given a pen and paper or even an exclusive timespan in which the interviewees talk most, they would do more justice to their experience and expertise and eventually to the audience. But with anchors who cut loose only to cut out every speaker after an ironically grand intro and with too many panelists clogging the screens and shouting in a discordant chorus, small wonder the participants seem like a puerile crowd of school children crying and cribbing for attention.

Granted, many experts, particularly from specialised fields, may lack the articulation skills and so cannot be judged as such. But what of those in the business of communication? Well, while genuine specialists can face a drought of words, with flippant journos it is a flood, and delivered with more authority than the former! The tube has come as a god-send goodie to the tribe of scribes and aah, how they have exploited it! Many full-time newspaper editors are actually full-time only on prime time and some even seemingly live in the studios.

Of course, it is a personal call and none can grudge their natural ‘professional urge’ to seek whatever they seek. But the fact is many of the invisible writing idols, who you and I revered a decade back as unbreakable pillars of print, have crumbled to dust, simply because we have now seen and heard them talk, and too often at that. So long as the topic is rape or Pak, they can get away because these are easy black and white opinion options. But it is politics that really shows up their shady colours. Truth be told, objectivity, across all media, from print to prime time, is a mirage, even a myth. Sure, bias is the bedrock for otherwise views will vanish, but the lines between bending, breaking or being bought out are blurred. And the four fingers are damning. For every political expose or scoop, there are umpteen cover-ups and concealments. There are favourites and pet punching bags; there are easy targets and the untouchable high and mighty. Therefore, the more voluble or visible a journo gets, the more the scars and skeletons that show up.

But the casualty that causes most concern is public anger. TV has made a mockery of it. There was a time a few years back when I felt people were not getting angry enough. However today, there is a lot of anger on the streets and screens. Yet there is this lingering frustration that the collective anger will eventually dissipate; that all the righteous rage is ultimately impotent. For, everytime an issue touches a flashpoint, TV media takes hold, hoists it skyhigh and starts hollering, only to dilute and dump it, leaving the frenzied masses it had prodded and provoked high and dry. It makes legitimate outrage seem like a simulated stream of passing visuals, that takes away with it even the original impact that a crime or corruption caused.

People’s anger and anguish are already rendered futile by an insensitive regime ready to wait out any crisis. But their complete subversion by TRP-driven TV is most tragic: For, in the melee for an outlet, it is the guilty ones that are let out without a scratch.

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Jawahar T R