The news & #BANNER1 & # coverage on TV channels has changed dramatically in the last 15 years. The content is no longer focused on hardcore news happenings. Lots of stuff that was not even considered news sometime back, such as Rakhi Sawant's break-up, is being given equal importance with events such as an emergency in Pakistan. The speakers on the panel at FICCI Frames 2008 discussed if news is still credible enough to be called news or it has become entertainment.
The panelists included G Krishnan, chief executive officer, TV Today Network; Sanjay Ahirwal, managing editor, NDTV India; Rajiv K Bajaj, vice-president, Sahara Samay; Satinder Bindra, senior correspondent CBS News and former chief of bureau, CNN; and Jill Grinda, director, worldwide distribution, Euronews. The session was moderated by Vishnu Som, associate editor, NDTV.
According to him, with changing times and changing consumers the news channels have changed too. Whatever runs as part of content on news channels is in sync with the preferences of the larger masses of people in the country. But everybody seems to criticise only the news channels for covering content that is considered as non-news. Krishnan's point was that even print newspapers these days are covering a whole lot of stuff that may not be considered as hardcore news. He argued why the newspapers are not criticised for thinning the line between news and entertainment.
Ahirwal of NDTV India said that whichever news has the capacity of receiving more eyeballs is given more prominence than others. For example, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto would be given more prominence than Bhutan welcoming democracy. He, however, was unhappy with the fact that in order to win the race for higher eyeballs, most news channels today have lost the essence of journalism. They have become more of low cost reality television channels. Many channels preferred giving high prominence to a kid falling into a sixty feet deep well in mid of year 2006 rather than the evacuation of thousands of Indians in Beirut. The evacuation was equally important news but it was not given any prominence.
Bajaj from Sahara Samay was of the view that people will watch something only if it affects them. Something that does not matter to them will be ignored. He said that currently there are 34 news channels in the country and in the coming 3-4 years, the channels may increase to the number of 100. The news channels business is growing at 8-10 per cent annually. About 10-12 per cent of total advertising money spent on television goes to news channels. In 2007, news channels generated close to Rs 700 crore in advertising revenue, compared to Rs 620 crore in 2006.
The growth of news channels only provides more room for the coverage of all possible perspectives. In the days of Doordarshan news was limited to one format. Today news covers a wide array of topics that interest consumers. As the consumers continue to evolve with rising standards of living and changing lifestyles, there will be more perspectives available for the coverage of news.
Bindra was questioned if news channels will be able to sustain themselves in the future with trivia. He said such content could provide short term gain in TRPs and profits but it will become a pain in the long run for the channel. If a channel loses is news credibility once, it can never gain it back. According to him it's not only the Indian TV channels that spice up trivial news. Channels in the US do it too. Recently there were reports on Britney Spears' tragic life played over and over again on TV channels in US.
He said that if a consumer is looking for something newsworthy, he will definitely be put off by the incessant coverage of Britney Spears' tears. He made a point that if such news has to be covered anyway, then it should not be run over on the channel the number of times it is actually.
The panel agreed that there is a need to frame some policies that balance the coverage of news on TV. News such as a kid falling into a 60-feet deep pit in a village appeals to a lot of people living in small towns and villages and should be covered. But at the same time it is necessary to ensure that the coverage doesn't look like a cheap reality show and it should be balanced out with relevant happenings.