There’s an ad for a radio station in Chennai imploring listeners to ‘Like’ them on Facebook. It starts off with a weird guy’s voice ‘I am making a sandwich’ (Keyboard sounds) ‘I am eating a sandwich’ (Keyboard sounds) ‘I think I used too much spicy brown mustard'( burp) ‘I burped’. Then a voice over comes on and announces – Addicted to updates? Then… ” giving details of how to locate the station on Facebook.
It’s exactly what happens on all the news channels all through the 24 hour cycle. There’s no breaking news, only ‘breaking wind’. A thick red band runs at the bottom of the screen mouthing inanities all the time. Today, it’s on the 2G scam and the Jan Lokpal bill. There is nothing new about the positions of the ruling party or the politicians on either side of the divide. Later on, at prime time in the evening, telegenic, controversial and highly articulate individuals will gather around to analyse the day’s events. Each channel has its set of celebrities and a pecking order. Barkha Dutt of NDTV has her pet Minister Kapil Sibal for her ‘Exclusives’. Rajdeep Sardesai, by virtue of the fact that he’s an ex-cricketers son, gets the sports biggies more often on his channel. The loudmouths come on Times Now, trying to shout each other down from their locations in different cities. If they were seated in the studio, they would probably bash each other up. Otherwise, they spend an hour wired up to say a few sentences. But no one ever dares to ignore the TV monster. They know that it will make or break their careers. If they aren’t on TV, no one even knows who they are. During the high impact budget and election coverage, political heavyweights channel hop with surprising alacrity. They distribute themselves across the spectrum and say the same things at different times on different channels. Of course, the viewer has a choice – the mother in law and daughter in law sagas that play out in different names and costumes but the same basic plotlines.
News does not break. It flows from one set of circumstances to the next. The only time it breaks is a catastrophe like the Japanese tsunami. From the time CNN invented the 24-hour news format to cover the Gulf War and now Twitter to provide ‘real-time’ updates, the concept of news seems to be undergoing a fundamental change. But look below the surface and you will see that reading the news the next day gives you a better perspective on what really happened. Like the guy making, eating and burping his sandwich, we have got used to examining the minutiae of daily living and making sense of it. A lot like looking at a flowing river and trying to understand the drops rather than the undercurrents that define the flow.