Any channel that interviews two senior Union cabinet ministers in one week deserves to be watched. If those ministers happen to be Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Union External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, it deserves to be taken seriously.
Serious enough for all channels to carry Shah’s interview.
And more seriously than news channels that relayed each and every second of the court hearing on Aryan Khan – ‘Bail or Jail?’ (India Today) – and which ought to have been wiping the egg off their faces, after Ashish Mishra was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police in connection with the death of four farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri, last week – remember how TV news channels went out of their way to sympathetically interview him and his father (Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra) and scoff at his possible involvement in the incident?
So say a big and warm welcome to Sansad TV that made a dignified entry approximately a month ago, without the kind of promotional fanfare we saw for the recently launched Times Now Navbharat or Good News Today (GNT). It’s a two-in-one Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha TV that looks like it came out of the Doordarshan studios but offers a range of programmes that provide more information and knowledge in a day than the news channels do in a week.
And with shows hosted by MPs Shashi Tharoor and Priyanka Chaturvedi, former MP Karan Singh, bureaucrat Amod Kanth, former diplomat Vikas Swarup (author of the novel Q&A, which went on to become the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire), or experts like Dr Ambrish Mithal (respected endocrinologist) and Maroof Raza (strategic affairs expert), it’s a sight for sore eyes. Honestly, wouldn’t you rather watch them than Navika Kumar, Arnab Goswami, Rajdeep Sardesai, Ravish Kumar, Sreenivasan Jain, Anand Narasimhan Anjana Om Kashyap, Rubika Liyaquat, Sudhir Chaudhary or Rajat Gupta and Amish Devgan?
Two chairs and a table
Of course, the likes of Swarup or Hemant Batra, who presents a show on the laws that ‘shaped India’ on Sansad TV, may lack polish and ease before the camera, but they more than make up for it by their sincerity—you feel they are the genuine article whereas news anchors always appear to be play-acting.
Let’s be clear: Sansad TV is no BBC. But it isn’t Doordarshan News either, although it has its look and feel—the production values are pedestrian and it bows to the powers that be: It telecasts live any speech made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, important ministers and, of course, the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu and Speaker of Lok Sabha, Om Birla.
Most studio sets consist of two chairs and a table in the TV studio – with an occasional flower pot or vase as props. Cheap and best, it fulfils the purpose of broadcasting a string of studio-based interviews and talks shows.
The channel can’t claim to be a news channel since it provides news in fits and starts. It’s best described as a cross between a talk show and a news feature – a Sunday magazine you can browse through and find something to interest you.
If Tharoor interviews celebrities in ‘To The Point’ (artist Anjolie Ela Menon this week), Chaturvedi speaks to fellow MPs (BJP’s Rita Bahuguna or Gomati Sai) in ‘Meri Kahaani’, while Singh talks on religion and faith in ‘Ek Sangh’ and Kant looks at infrastructure in ‘Transforming India’ — this week saw him deal with atomic energy. As for Swarup, he presents ‘Diplomatic Despatches’ where Jaishankar made an appearance.
There is also Abhivyakti on different artistic forms – this week saw Birju Maharaj on kathak. And Dr Mithal presents ‘Healthy India’, where he invites other doctors to advise you on ailments, big and small. Watched the episode on diabetes, which didn’t surprise you with any startling revelations but reminded you of things you must and must not do.
On ‘The Defenders’, Raza invites guests to tackle questions on national security – is India equipped to manage a two-theatre war? Besides Batra’s legal show, there is the explainer on law, ‘Kanoon ka Paatshaala’.
Simple but not simplistic
Since the channel is there to showcase and promote Parliament, there is a slew of programmes devoted to parliamentary and assembly debates, past and present – the excerpts here are too brief – written parliamentary questions, bills that have recently been passed (‘Know Your Bills’) and debates on government policies—the ‘New India Debate’ goes to universities to discuss issues such as Swachh Bharat or the New Education Policy with the next generation.
Want to get to know your representatives better? Well, you may but may not on ‘Aapke Sansad’ – the show follows MPs into their constituencies but is basically a PR job, which hails the many contributions they have made without pointing out any shortcomings — but this is Sansad TV so what do you expect? Visited Mathura with Hema Malini and watched her morning routine, and her rounds of the city. Hmm.
On ‘Samvaad’, you can meet chief ministers – met Karnataka’s Basvaraj Bommai and Haryana’s Manohar Lal Khattar.
Away from Parliament, there are other in-house shows, like ‘Love You Zindagi’ that brings you personalised lifestyle tips – how to combat insomnia (practise yoga, silly) – ‘Vibrant India’, which is a bit like ‘Love You Zindagi’ so not sure what the difference is – saw an episode on how to cook sattu. ‘Smart Kheti’, as the name suggests, offers farming practices from across the country – growing bananas in a village of Bihar, for instance. And so it goes.
Sansad TV doesn’t make a splash, but it doesn’t make any noise either. It doesn’t break new ground, but it doesn’t create artificial conflicts either. It might seem to feature more BJP members than from other parties, but that reflects the composition of Parliament.
Admittedly, it has a relaxed, boringly slow old-fashioned character to it that would appal today’s CGI television aficionados.
But the average, ordinary viewer may take comfort in it, for while it is simple in presentation it is not simplistic—if you listen carefully, you do learn from it. Which is more than can be said for most television news.
Views are personal.