Shibani Gharat

TV.NXT 2012: We don't need regulators, we need good editors: Shekhar Gupta

On the concluding day of TV.NXT, Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief, Indian Express addressed the key issues and solutions to the problems of 24-hour news channels.

"The last session of the last day, especially on Friday, assures that only those who are interested will be attending it," began Shekhar Gupta, addressing a packed audience on 'An editor's view of news on television' for the last session on Day Two of TV.NXT 2012.

Since time immemorial, television news has been a media observer and critique's favourite topic. Gupta, acknowledged as one of India's finest news editors, analysed the problem of news channels and discussed the possible solutions.

TV.NXT 2012: We don't need regulators, we need good editors: Shekhar Gupta
According to Gupta, the biggest problem with TV news channels is that they spend more time in the studio with make-up and microphone, rather than focus on news. "They spend a lot of time talking for themselves, talking to themselves about how powerful they are and how they can meet heaven and earth," said Gupta, adding that TV news has never seen a time when it was so frightened of its own shadow.

Gupta said that, in his book, the regulator is the editor. He narrated an anecdote of three dogs in his household and how they would be put on a leash before going out. One day, when the family decided to put them off the leash, the dogs simply stood in front of the gate and did not go out as they wanted the leash. "If any kind of regulation is created for the news media outside the newsroom, it would be self-demolition," he said. Being one of the oldest editors in this business, he asserted that he personally detests the idea of editors speaking about setting up a regulatory body. "We don't need regulators, we need editors. We go searching for the regulators because we are missing the editor," he said.

Gupta also voiced his opinion against PR plugs published under the package of news. "But the problem is different for print and TV," he reiterated.

The biggest problem with news on TV today is its dependency on politicians and party spokespersons. "The same politicians are there in every studio, day after day," said Gupta, narrating how he knows of politicians who carry several waistcoats in their cars. The fundamental role of media in a democracy is its adversary role. "TV news has completely equated vibrant news with sensationalism. You need a sense of scandal every evening," he noted.

Unlike print, where there is an editorial culture of asking questions and raising questions, here the tendency is to short cut the entire process. "Due to time constraint, the value addition is only background sound and ticker," he averred.

Giving the example of the hype over the Assam flood coverage, he narrated how loud anchor presentation has become a part of the game to garner TRPs. "Most of the TV channels have called the Assam floods the greatest floods of the past 10 years, for each year of the last five years," he quipped.

TRP has nothing to do with the fact that Aamir Khan gets away by saying that DDT has been banned for 15 years. "But, the use of DDT for indoor residual spray in human habitation is permitted. The problem is that he said it, many news channels carried it and many did follow ups, but nobody questioned the fact that it was rubbish," he said.

According to Gupta, a set of relationships retain the vitality of any newsroom. "One is the sacred relationship between a reporter and her source, second is the questioning relationship between reporter and her editor, third the wall between the news and the opinion and fourth, the impermeable barrier between editorial and advertising. All these relationships go on to enforce the most crucial message of all, the adversarial independent relationship in the newsroom and the power that we the media exercise," he stressed.

In the print news business, Gupta said, these relationships exist, but in TV news, these relationships are either broken or strained. He narrated the sacrosanct relation between a reporter and source and how it is broken. Describing the cash-for-votes scam, he mentioned how it was the source who went to jail. "To an old journalist like me, it is an outrage for a journalist to dump the source and let him go to jail. You should never betray the source even if your finger nails are pulled out," he emphasised.

Gupta also expressed his dislike for the system of star anchors on TV news. "The rest of the newsroom only plays an accessory role, because if the boss is a star anchor, who will question him/her?"

Gupta opined that most of the time, editors have dispelled their own news sense as most of them try and second the other editors.

The problem is that there are no counter forces in the news media industry to check, he said. A probable solution, he suggested, could be to "do better journalism. Make mistakes, admit to them," stated Gupta.

"When news breaks 24 hours a day, accuracy and fairness becomes even more valuable," he added, underlining the need to look at 24 X 7 news channels.

Pointing out that the judiciary has started taking on the media, he cautioned that somewhere down the line, the media has grown too big for its boots. "In a democracy, no institution should over-promise," he warned.

However, Gupta praised TV for its immediacy and urgency, especially about how the government goes about its jobs. "The power of the medium clearly cannot be denied," spoke Gupta, citing how even the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came on TV to address issues concerning the people of this country.

Gupta expressed his concern on every crook in the country wanting to launch a 'media-something'. "A lot of businessmen have now realised that media is a very small business. But they also realise that media has power," he added.

Gupta concluded the session by saying that the need now is not regulation; the need is to restore the role of an editor who is willing to say 'no'.

This was the third edition of TV.NXT, an afaqs! event presented by ABP News.