Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Business of Selling News

On the night of the Terrible Tuesday I sat at A’s parent’s place watching TV, flipping through the news channels. I haven’t subscribed to cable TV in this new place we moved into last year. I have been off of television for the longest period ever in my life. But my TV watching habits are not what I want to talk about here…

Of all the channels telecasting the details of the carnage, one stood apart for various reasons. In order to avoid unwanted controversies I will henceforth call that channel – Indian TV.

The aforementioned channel tried to become the staple channel of all news devouring couch potatoes by cooking up the casting couch drama (the Aman Varma & Shakti Kapoor stints). A strategy which might work in this mad race of television channels and short attention span of the viewers.

Anyhow, there was R. Kapoor talking about the blasts with his trademark mono-emot-iconic face and the lower half of the frame was covered with a thick band of super-imposed text screaming “Breaking News” and “Exclusive Video, coming up next”. The text kept blinking for more than fifteen minutes or so - in the manner of a Volvo-Bus to Pune which will be kept waiting until there are enough people on board for it to start the journey.

The text then changed to “Exclusive Video after the break”. This was followed by a long 5-7 minute slot of ads which kindly informed us as to how a detergent made of the same materials as any other, except with a special and more expensive perfume in it can clean even the dirtiest of clothes in less time.

That was followed by a Casanova father and his can’t-act-to-save-his-life drug addict son bonding over cancer-inducing mouth freshener (gutka); how a dead father’s blessings are going to take India to the path of success and growth when it could not keep the sons together.

Next in the LONG line of adverts was about how writing with a pen that has a meter in it helps you keep a tab on the length of material you have written, as if we don’t have enough figures making our life difficult (OH, and let’s not wait, this is like the 10th minute passing as we all anxiously are waiting for that “Exclusive Video” they’d promised before breaking into a rash of ads). Aaaaaaaand… how a designer “toilet” made a lady stay in the toilet all day to forget about everything else in the world; how drinking a particular brand of insecticide (Darth Cola) makes your TV watching experience all the better.

We also learned how putting pulses (dals) in wheat flour noodles will make sure your children run around in circles with circus clown-type-rigor-mortis-smiles because they were sick and tired of eating the same dal-roti (lentil soup and flat bread) all day and everyday (have I mentioned that this is all ABSOLUTELY CRASS BULLSHIT?).

Let’s not forget the one that showed how you wonderful it can be if your SUV (which must be hidden from plain sight under SNOW in your front yard) can be uncovered with the help of a beautiful damsel (especially if she smiles and acts the way James Bond-Gals do) – oh yeah, and she MUST use the blades of a chopper to clear the snow from the SUV in order for you to experience a FULL THROTLE orgasm!

Humph! Poppy-cock!

There was more but I couldn’t stomach writing it all down…

So, after the break, followed by more breaks, followed by even more… etc. The proclamation was still flashing at the bottom announcing this MUCH AWAITIED exclusive video which apparently only this channel had.

A little later the much hyped video was there – the handy work of a guy who returned to the Bandra explosion site with a camera and shot the scenes of body parts strewn across the length and breadth of the explosion site. I watched the entire video. Ghastly though it was, it did help me understand the entirety of the situation.

Let’s admit it, for most of us “Terror Tuesday” will be counted as just one of the many days we’ve faced down in Mumbai that left us a little worse for wear, but nothing more. BUT, for many hundreds of unfortunates, that day was the end of their lives as they knew it. The fact that I barely escaped death (by a window of just 4 minutes in fact) etched that day a little more deeply into my memory.

What I am trying to say is that the video shot by an amateur did help many of us experience the gruesome reality of that day. For all those who didn’t have a friend or family member affected by the blasts, those uncensored shots gave them a dose of reality and made them realise the pain others were experiencing first-hand.

But… I really didn’t work up myself to write about the effects of that video; rather, it was to write about the manner in which it was presented. The channel did as much marketing of the small video as was possible within that limited time period; as if it were an exclusive video of an upcoming multi-star-cast movie. You could say that what pissed me most was that they topped it all off by trying to earn as much as possible from that footage, regardless of the meaning of the content, as possible.

I wonder if people working with news channels actually jump with joy when they come across something as exclusive as that video was and start counting the TRP’s that are assured by something like it.

I wonder if advertising agencies go berserk buying spots on some such night when they are sure that everyone will be glued to their televisions.

I wonder if the reporters pray for a night like this to come and add to their fortunes. There they are, with their mikes in their hands, shoving them up into people’s noses with the quintessential cameraman trying to capture the face of “the crying woman who wants to hide her face but is too distraught to do so”; continuing with the reporter screaming into her mike about the “plight of this young woman, married only two months who has lost her husband in this gruesome act of terrorism”. Screaming even louder – “What is her future now? Where will she go? What HAS SHE DONE TO DESERVE THIS??? Who will answer these questions? LET’S NOW SHOVE MY MIKE WHERE SHE CAN SEE IT AND ASK – HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT ALL THIS MA’AM????”

Arrrgh! I felt like getting up and smacking the son-of-a-bitch over her head.

I wonder a lot.


Anonymous closetalk said...

mmm.. nopes, not the reporter, but the guys hyeading the channel - the so-called Executive Editor - does think that way. and they scream into the hapless reporter's ear piece : MAKE THEM CRY, MAKE THEM CRY, YOU DIMWIT!

been there, seen that and done it, too.

7:19 PM, July 15, 2006  
Blogger Prasann said...

I believe you are right CT.

9:39 PM, July 15, 2006  
Anonymous H said...

i wonder if we're all responsible for the hype, attention and importance the media receives today...

personally, i scorn the media ever so often for the way it functions..
at times heartless
at times over opinionated
at times baseless and untrue

has the media lost it's true purpose in order to satisfy the self serving needs of certain entities?

b t w, nice blog

the part about the lady reporter reminded me of rita skeeter interviewing potter

1:31 PM, July 17, 2006  
Blogger Prasann said...

Thanks H,

Actually I am beginning to realize that my post was quite one-sided. I didn't mention the bosses at the channels (as pointed out by CT) or the people who love watching such stuff.

6:30 PM, July 18, 2006  

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