Arushi/Hemraj murder case is one of those very few news items that get equal coverage in both vernacular and English news channels but the difference in the standard of journalism between the two is stark. While the English language news channels have not been able to balancing the issue correctly, one cannot even contemplate Hindi media reporting the case maturely. After all, this case has all the elements that TV reporters can only dream of. It is not surprising to find Hindi news channels focus on the elements of adultery, illicit relationship, mystery and honor killing, these are the elements they sometimes have to invent to make their programmes on crime reporting appear alluring. Coming back to the criticism of the Hindi visual media, especially on crime reporting one need be a regular viewer to write on them, infrequent glimpses during channel surfing are enough to get on the nerves. The quality of journalism can be known from the news bulletins themselves and exclusive but regular programs on crimes and investigation.
One of the first things that catches your attention is most likely to be the reporter/anchor of the show. It requires a fair amount of intelligence (or experience) to realise that the host is not trying to threaten or intimidate the viewers but is actually a failed actor trying to play the difficult role of a compere of a street show-cum- reporter. Like C-grade Bollywood movies, the title of these programs are chosen more to arouse perverse curiosity and promise cheap thrills than report crimes or other news events. Certain news channels have even given up all pretensions of journalism, and unabashedly employ cheap tactics to attract attention. A couple of channels have even begun dressing up their actors/reporters in police costumes to make the show more attractive and realistic (?).
Other programs reporting on exclusive stories employ similar visual effects, exaggerated story lines and dialogues, hysteria-stricken actors/reporters and apocalyptic or euphemistic captions. Most of the times the visual effects/graphics are so grotesquely naive that a 10 year old kid's creation comes across as more professional. The content in programs dedicated to crime reporting typically has to do something with sexual crimes, real or imaginary, dug out from the nondescript alleys of small towns to the glittering world of celebrities and tycoons.
When talking on crime reporting and sensationalism one cannot ignore the role that sting operations and reality TV play in Hindi news channels. This form of investigative journalism has been in more than one instance used to trap known personalities with the help of honey-pots. Most of the times these sting operations are conducted more to capture clandestine activities on camera rather than highlight a wrong-doing. However, I must mention here that after the infamous sting operation on Delhi school teacher who was later found to having been falsely implicated because of personal enmity, TV channels have become cautious. But media's obsession with video-tape and live feeds continues unabated only the focus has shifted from sting operations to criminal investigation and reality TV. It has in many instances this obsession been used to convert non-issues into national issues and personal tragedies into reality shows. This lust for video-tape also results in Indian news channels promoting voyeurism and invading the privacy of celebrities and common people alike.
I wonder if an article on Hindi media can be complete without a reference to the Great Khali.
This 7-foot professional wrestler from Himachal Pradesh is a great favorite of almost all Hindi news channels. Khali has been transformed to something of a national hero after his successes in WWE, the coverage provided to him can only be equalled by even people like Sachin Tendulkar or Shahrukh Khan.
Well, creating a national hero out of someone who excels in a particular sport is not wrong but is it a sport and are these channels being truthful? WWE stands for World Wrestling Entertainment , it is a sports entertainment company that combines sports with theatrics to make it more glamorous and appealing. The sport is real (or should I say the blood is real) but the matches are scripted. What it essentially means is that the entire show is scripted and rehearsed, right from the pre-match challenges and histrionics to the actual results, everything has been premeditated. When the media reports it as a genuine sport it is misrepresenting facts and spreading lies. It realizes that a section of its population, especially, the lower middle class is in need of heroes and icons and to meet it and in the process raise their own TRPs, these news channels resort to lies and misrepresentation.
Similar factually incorrect and misleading news items have been aired but nothing has worked as well as Khali's exploits in WWE. So the pertinent question here would be what is common between Hindi news channels and WWE? The answer to this question is simple even if elusive. If WWE can be called sports entertainment because of the use of theatrics and glamour then Hindi news channels too can be categorised as pseudo-journalism or news entertainment. When the mainstream media indulges in such pseudo-journalism, it bodes ill for democracy.