Tuesday, January 24, 2023
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A Hindi news channel is good business. You don’t need to be an Ambani to understand that

Hindi news channels, unlike most English ones, sensibly begin their debates/discussions early evening – 5pm onwards – so they don’t interrupt or upset our dinner.

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It’s taken them long enough to do it, but finally, Times Now has gone Hindi. Sixteen years after the launch of the English news channel, The Times Group has joined the battle in the Hindi heartland with Times Now Navbharats debut on 1 August.

About time too. Other media groups that run channels like NDTV, India Today, CNN News 18, News X, and more recently Republic TV, had realised that a Hindi news channel was an essential commodity/service in broadcast news.

You don’t need to be an Ambani or an Adani to understand that it’s good business to broadcast in Hindi. According to the 2011 Language Census, over 40 per cent Indians said Hindi was their mother tongue – wow, what a potential audience.

That’s not all. Hindi news is often faster, stronger on tracking developments that attract a higher viewership – on Olympics, it went head-to-head with English news. ‘Olympic Breaking — Kamaal ka performance,’ announced India TV after Ravi Kumar Dahiya, ‘mitti ke pahalwan’ (ABP News), won his semi-final wrestling bout Wednesday. (Wrestler ‘Suresh pahalwan’, aka Sushil Kumar, was the newsmaker Monday morning on Republic Bharat and Times Now Navbharat when the Delhi Police filed a charge sheet against the Olympian.)

Hindi news reveled in ‘nari shakti’ (Aaj Tak), ‘Chak de India’ (Republic Bharat, TV9 Bharatvarsh) and ‘Indian women make history’ (Aaj Tak) on Monday, after India beat Australia in hockey quarter-final. They all spoke of India’s ‘betiyan’ with pride. But it took Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Wednesday morning visit to the parents of the nine-year-old girl, allegedly raped and murdered in Delhi, for the channels to focus on the horrific crime — then, too, it was more about ‘Rahul ki rape politics’ (Zee News).

News channels spent much of Wednesday afternoon watching India’s hockey semi-final against Argentina – or watching the families of players watch hockey. ABP News was in Amritsar at the home of goalscorer Gujreet Kaur; Zee News, Aaj Tak, NDTV 24×7, India Today with captain Rani Rampal’s family. Newcomer Times Now Navbharat let the excitement show — ‘The buzz in the newsroom is like we are in the stadium’, said anchor Ankit Tyagi. “Hip hip hooray—how’s the josh?” exclaimed a female colleague.

That’s the other thing about Hindi news — it is more colloquial, and colorful: TV9 Bharatvarsh had a song on its lips for Team India, while on Republic Bharat, soldiers in Jammu sang, ‘Kuch kariye…. chak de India…’

Also read: The many joys of watching Indians at Tokyo 2020. But it’s the commentary that excites more

India’s Hindi news has ‘world exclusives’

So what’s Times Now Navbharat all about?

Early days, but on Sunday it began with a ‘world exclusive’ on the palatial hideout of Jaish-e -Mohammed chief Masood Azhar in Pakistan. We saw some grainy photographs of interiors and then stared at a gate – well, guess that’s a start. The Times of India said this was based on a ‘dossier prepared by (India’s) national security establishment’. Hmmmn.

Monday, it had another exclusive — this time it claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was about to do ‘what had never been done before’ in India. His government was going to take action against former CBI director Alok Verma. No other channel had this news, nor was there any follow up, anywhere.

Hindi news channels, unlike most English ones, sensibly begin their debates/discussions early evening – 5 pm onwards – so they don’t interrupt or upset our dinner.  Times Now Navbharat abides by the tradition– its emphasis is on ‘people’-based shows. Thus, Ankit Tyagi in ‘Logtantra’ Tuesday dealt with children returning to school and interviewed education ministers of Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Uttarakhand. Editor-in-Chief Times Now Navbharat Navika Kumar took viewers’ questions during the debate show `Sawal Public Ka’. The gimmick here is to have a ‘lie detector test’ – the channel’s research team assesses factual claims by guest panelists and flashes the green or red button for true or false information.

The third novelty is the 9 pm News ki Paathshaala where anchor Sushant Sinha tries to educate viewers – and politicians – on issues of the day. This is a tricky one – while he marshalls plenty of facts and figures, it isn’t only to educate but to teach the chosen target for the day, a lesson. Monday, it was an economics lecture on the Punjab government paying politicians’ taxes; Tuesday, it was an English lesson for National Conference leader Omar Abdullah on the meaning of ‘give’ and ‘deliver’. This, after a video snippet of Abdullah’s angry response to Navika Kumar in a Times Now interview (Frankly Speaking) Sunday went viral.

Otherwise, the channel is very much like other Hindi news channels — it has much more news compared to English channels; there are speed bulletins, up to 100 news items at a time and morning updates from different states.

Another distinguishing feature of Hindi channels is that not only do they have more news, they often have it first: from Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar’s Monday meeting with Amit Shah (ABP News), to excerpts from Rahul Gandhi’s speech at the ‘Breakfast Politics’ (India TV) and what was served at it – upma, idli, sambhar, vada, sandwiches (Zee News), to details of the post-mortem report on Dhanbad district judge Uttam Anand’s death in a hit-and-run case (Times Now Navbharat)these are some examples this week.

Also, Hindi news channels have their fingers more firmly on the pulse of political developments in the heartland. We saw discussions on homes of Hindus for sale in Moradabad, UP (Zee News, Republic Bharat) and objections to the UP government’s guidelines for Muharram across channels. These issues need to be widely known, discussed because they have wider implications, no matter how divisive and contentious they may be.

However, will someone explain why Republic Bharat dwelt and dwelt and dwelt on a woman slapping a taxi driver, repeatedly, in Lucknow, Tuesday afternoon?

Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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