The me-too television wars

IN Media Practice | 02/01/2006
If youøre experiencing a sense of deja vu, pity Mrs Sonia Gandhi. She had to answer almost identical questions from the two øømost respected TV journalist(s)øø…


            Reprinted from the Indian Express,  January 02, 2006  


Tele scope


Shailaja Bajpai
Rajdeep Sardesai - CNN-IBN - Friday, December 30, 9.30 pm: A mystery in an enigma, Mrs Gandhi is a very private....
Barkha Dutt - NDTV 24X7 - Friday, December 30, 9.30 pm: You are a very private person, very shy... a reluctant politician...                                                                                                        
  Sardesai (same time, same channel): What do you consider the greatest achievement of the last year? 
Dutt (same time, same channel): What gives you the most satisfaction in the last year? 
Sardesai (engaging smile): What do you like to do in private life? 
Dutt (a smile of self-deprecation): What do you like to do in your free time? 
  Sardesai: Any message for the people/viewers?                                                                                                                       Dutt: Last words for the people/viewers? 

If you`re experiencing a sense of deja vu, pity Mrs Sonia Gandhi. She had to answer the same (almost identical) questions from the two ``most respected TV journalist(s)`` as CNN-IBN promotes Sardesai, within a few hours of each other (so it seemed). Sardesai and Dutt also asked her about the National Advisory Council, corruption (Volcker), coalition politics, etc. Both spoke with their hands like traffic constables; both looked enormously pleased to be seated opposite, NDTV`s "Indian of 2005" or Sardesai`s ``most powerful person in India``. 

There were two discernible differences: Mrs Gandhi wore green for the Sardesai interview and magenta for Dutt`s; Sardesai called her ``Ma`am``, Dutt nothing at all. 

  The Sonia interviews say everything about the two channels: the stalwart (NDTV) and the challenger (CNN-IBN). The verdict? As of now, it`s not so much a case of anything like "you can do, I can do better" but anything "you can do, I can do too". 

So the Gandhi interviews (excerpted extensively by both on Thursday), so too the murderous attack in Bangalore: if NDTV is speaking to the vox populi, CNN-IBN is chatting up local students. And when Sardesai, on the night of the attack, says, ``tell us what is the situation the ground,`` why, it seems like old times at NDTV (his old haunt). 

  Thus, it is (not at all) strange that CNN-IBN has also chosen a reddish background or fielded Sardesai in his old 10 pm slot - now he Face(s) the Nation instead of explaining the X-Factor. 

  As the pretender to the throne, CNN-IBN has to make all the running - which may explain why many of its anchors and reporters speak as though they are out of breath. 

  In what way is it different from its `parent` (ouch)? Not in the claims of its promos. A new channel, especially in the news category, ought to be careful about its boasts, because there is every chance (particularly in the beginning) it will have to swallow them. CNN-IBN says it will present ``excellence in journalism`` and aspires to be ``a temple of journalism`` (why does it sound scary?) with a ``passion for the truth``. Yes, but don`t they all? Or is it trying to say something about the other news channels? 

  CNN-IBN tries to be more relaxed than the suit and tie regime of NDTV. Not just in attire but in the conversational style it has adopted. ``Chocolate is good for you - so sweet``. ``Hi Paras, what are you doing in Goa?`` Paras: Having fun (what else)?... and about to introduce myself to the most beautiful women in the water... or words to that effect. 

  The channel smiles a lot, jokes, is positive and positively interactive - there are questions of the day, questions of the hour, the minute. There are reporters in the field who always have on hand the average common man for The People`s Opinion - ``Prof Puri,`` said a former student, ``was a gentle, kind man, most helpful.`` And, often, the anchors think the studio is Noah`s Ark so they come in twos. 

  Also, there is a preference to stand and tell it like it is (as opposed to sit and deliver). Aaj Tak specialises in this but CNN-IBN might like to tell its lady anchors that they need to stand out, not merge with the backdrop - they favour orange, red kurtas. 

  None of this means the channel is not engaging or entertaining but ``a temple of journalism?`` No aarti, just yet.


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