Door-to-door Darshan

IN Opinion | 28/02/2013
What if a New York consultancy were to be entrusted with a makeover of the public broadcaster?
AJITH PILLAI says one could expect robotic anchors and government-paid news.

 Dipped in Witriol


Why is public broadcaster Doordarshan (DD) often declared dead by the pundits, suddenly making the honchos of private news channels reach for antacid? Well, if the recent aggressiveness of the smart, new-look anchors on state-run television’s prime time news was not enough, a set of recommendations that Prasar Bharti CEO Jawhar Sircar has kept in his pending tray is causing considerable heartburn. Reason: there is nothing to suggest that he may not implement them in Doordarshan (which his organisation controls) or that I&B minister Manish Tewari will not push him into doing so with the 2014 general elections looming large on the horizon.

According to reliable sources (the unreliable guys could not be tapped since they are holidaying in Wellington, Nilgiri Hills), the proposed DD makeover plan which has set off subterranean shock waves (5.4 on the Richter scale) among private channels, comes all the way from New York City. ‘Doublespeak & Tripleheard’ is the agency that is responsible for creating what is being described as a possible existentialist crisis for the TV news business.  The outfit is run from Central Park by a Chinese (who claims he re-discovered Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle while checking on whether burgers sold by McDonalds are of uniform quality) and an Indian computer geek who has done extensive research for the tobacco industry on smoke signals as an alternative to mobile telephony.

The two, who go by the moniker Yen and Sen, were contacted by an influential Prasar Bharati official on a US tour. The latter was apparently impressed by the way the duo laughed at those walking in the Park who weren’t sure they were moving forward because they didn’t know which way they were facing. “These guys echo the very words of John Lennon from the Imagine album and are geniuses who can turn around Doordarshan News,” the official said in a report he sent to his head office from the Colorado Desert. He had flown there hoping to find Rajasthani food since he believed that people of all arid lands swear by the same cuisine, sing the same folk songs at Delhi’s five stars and willingly subject themselves to literary festivals of the Jaipur kind.

Anyway, that aside, Yen and Sen’s report ‘DD News: Call a Spade a Biscuit or a Cookie’, even though it has not been considered for implementation yet, is worth taking a look at. It perhaps gives us a peep on the shape (or shapelessness) of news to come. So, let us share excerpts without much ado:

The Anchor for All Seasons: DD must create a robotic figure—someone who is the sum and substance (or lack of it) of what makes news and non-news happen 24x7.  He/she should be programmed to shout, scream, flash eyebrows, look menacing and become excited even while discussing cabbages and kinks or, for that matter, kings. The ideal candidate must have qualities that reflect the pluses and minuses of popular anchors on news channels and should in future, when the situation demands it, not hesitate to pull a toy gun to get a guest to make a statement injurious to him.   

Ask Tough Questions: To take discussions to a hysterical level beyond the “Nation needs to know”, news presenters must ask genuine tough questions. Example: If Log x (1/8) = minus 3/2 then what is the value of “x”? Most politicians, or for that matter commentators, will not say that the answer is 4 (that incidentally may not be correct but who cares!). More importantly, it opens the opportunity to turn the heat (60 degrees Celsius) on Opposition leaders by posing this supplementary: if they don’t know basic math how do they hope to get their electoral arithmetic right? Alternatively, one can quiz them on the geographical position (latitude, longitude and attitude) of the Maldives vis-a-vis India or what text messages are trained animals allowed to send under US laws. (All correct answers will of course be fed to those representing the government/ Congress party so that they come through with flying colours).

Let All News be Breaking News: DD must not shy away from claiming any report as being its exclusive. It could be a press conference on tubeless tyres, ageing politicians announcing they won’t retire or someone espousing the funda about breaking an anda – it’s all breaking (or brokered if it’s a government eggplant). And, remember, the punch line “You heard it and you’ve seen it first on DD” must be emphasized so that the competition does not claim ownership of a particular story.

Age Matters: Aggressive advertising showing DD News as the first to tax viewers, much before the private channels came into the picture, ought to be highlighted. An opinion poll conducted by Doublespeak & Tripleheard among those who frequent Central Park shows that 90 per cent of those polled felt that a campaign showcasing what today’s star anchors and reporters were when Doordarshan started out in 1950 or even decades later would be very illustrative. The ‘No Kidding—we were seen and heard when others were not even yodeling’ ad spots will be a first of its kind in broadcast history.

A New Twist to Paid News: DD is known to project the sarkar’s view and since it’s funded by the state it is willy-nilly the receiver and disseminator of the largest volume of what can be termed as paid news. Once that reality is accepted, one can move on to other areas of sponsored news that could be paying. For example, weather forecasts can be manipulated so that rain can be predicted weeks ahead of the monsoon breaking (news). This misinformation will be paid for handsomely by umbrella manufacturers.  Of course, the erroneous report can later be explained by the western disturbance succumbing to the charms of an eastern calm.

Door-to-Door Darshan: To ensure that in the long run TRP ratings of private channels drop significantly, an initiative must be launched among children to encourage them to watch news. This catch-them-young-scheme, which involves door-to-door campaigning, will ensure that the youth get tired of keeping track of events like politicians in blunderland or levels of tension along the LoC.  In fact, many kids, when they grow up, will stop watching newscasts altogether, including those on Doordarshan. So, how will that help? Well, TRP ratings are computed exclusively for satellite channels and not for a terrestrial broadcaster like DD!

Of course, there is no clarity on when Jawhar Sircar will make his next move, but a copy of the proposal submitted by Doublespeak & Tripleheard is already with 10 Janpath.  Meanwhile, the I&B ministry has left the controversial question of whether the outflow of government-influenced news should be reduced or increased to the Cauvery Tribunal to decide after it resolves the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu water sharing dispute…    

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