License to Kill in TV Studios

By Allabaksh

New Delhi, (Syndicate Features): It should be a matter of sorrow and shame that the so-called debates on most ‘national news channels’ have been allowed to reach ‘murderous’ levels. The danger that it spells was illustrated by the untimely death of Rajiv Tyagi, a Congress spokesman, who was participating in a TV ‘debate’.

Fifty-three-year-old Tyagi, who was participating from his home in Ghaziabad, felt uneasy and reportedly ‘collapsed’ moments before the ‘debate’ ended. A BJP spokesman had reportedly hurled incessantly personal insults at him. No effort was made by the anchor to stop the diatribe. Well, a demonstration of respect to ‘freedom of speech’!

Tyagi was taken to a hospital where efforts to save him failed. News reports said the cause of his death was ‘cardiac arrest’. But a maelstrom on social media that followed his death pointed fingers at the toxicity of the debate in which he was at the receiving end of a very brash and offensive spokesman of the BJP. The anchor, no less unabashed, did not think it fit to ask the spokesman to keep a level of decency in the ‘debate’.

And if anyone still thinks that ‘true’ journalism demands a ‘balanced’ presentation of news and views, he or she is living in an eclipsed era. Today’s rule of the game is no longer steeped in the old-world journalistic ethics and values.

The anchor of the TV show too came in for criticism on the social media. But that particular anchor is among a dozen or so who have earned their fame for turning their shows into anti-thesis of sobriety. Instead of debating an issue sensibly, these shows are converted into debating grounds for very loud exchange of vitriol, and even abuse.

To ordinary minds, the vulgar, defamatory and cheap level of TV ‘debates’ would appear to be in violation of the law which places ‘reasonable’ restrictions under Article 19 (1) (a) on the exercise of ‘freedom of speech’. Even if that particular clause in the Constitution can be interpreted differently, as apparently it is, what about observing some decency in public behavior?

The persons who participate in the TV ‘debates’ either represent political parties or are social activists or journalists. In most cases the most disgusting comments seem to come from those representing or defending the ruling party. The anchors of such shows pride themselves in being ardent supporters of the establishment, a role that gives them the right to stop verbal diatribes against critics of the government of the day.

In recent days some of the anchors who freely launch unproven charges and blustering verbal blitzkrieg on hapless critics of the government found themselves in an unusual position of police filing complaint against them. But it proved to be a token exercise.
It is said that what some call off-putting debates are actually lapped up by the masses. It shores up television rating points which help in attracting the money-spinning advertisements. It shocks the old fashioned moralists, but who cares.

Some have resigned to the fact that TV debates in India will now never return to the old style of decent, fact-based arguments and discussions in which you make your point without shouting or using abusing adjectives. They have found an escape by deciding to boycott the so-called news channels.

Around the time of the last Lok Sabha polls, the Congress and some other Opposition parties had announced that they would ‘boycott’ TV studios and not participate in their discussions because the anchors and the ruling party spokesmen combined to throttle their voice.

It is not clear if it made any difference because the TV debates continued in the old nasty and obnoxious ways because some punching bags were always willing to be part of the show which assured a little money and plenty of ‘fame’ for the participants. Several participants of the TV ‘debates’ have become household names, something they would not have imagined in their wildest dreams.

Even the Sonia Congress had to end its ‘boycott’ as its spokesmen are now seen on most channels in verbal duals with the BJP spokes persons and the anchors. It was never explained, as far as one knows, when and why the Congress lifted its self-imposed ban on participating in TV ‘debates’.

Make no mistake, the disagreeable tone and tenor of the TV ‘debates’ would remain intact, regardless of fatalities in the studio. (Syndicate Features)