Don’t you think it is time for television news to make a big break from the past and the present? Here’s how it can achieve this: do away with anchors—the stars who get primetime visibility at least five times a week and whose faces have almost become symbols of their respective channels. The Nupur Sharma incident took place during a ‘debate’ on Times Now, anchored by one such star anchor— and read how angry the Supreme Court was with Sharma and TV news channels on Friday.
So bid the news anchors farewell—‘ok, ta ta’. Or how about this as an idea—give each one of them their own talk show. Since they hold an opinion on every subject in the statute book and more, why not let them just share it with us in one go? In their stead, we could have ‘debates’ with just panellists (more like pugilists sometimes) supporting different political persuasions and a timer. Each speaker will get their share of time to speak on a particularly controversial topic like ‘Modi ka naam kisne kiya badnam’—APB News discussed after the Supreme Court ruled that there was no conspiracy behind the 2002 Gujarat riots. The timer will go ‘beep-beep’ when time’s up—and it’s over to the next panellist. Each one gets time to rebut and interrupt the other until the audience can’t make sense of what is going on. Isn’t that what already happens every evening in television news studios, anyway?
Then there are anchors whose contribution to the debate is questionable. What exactly do they do? Lecture panellists, incite, taunt or goad them, and sometimes even act as if they were the panellists. And finally, they pronounce judgements for the ‘benefit of the viewers.’ (Of course, exceptions exist.)
A study of anchoring styles
Most anchors, from Ravish Kumar of NDTV India to Arnab Goswami of Republic TV, from Rajat Sharma of India TV to Navika Kumar of Times Now begin their shows with a lecture to anybody who’s listening to them in the studio (many panellists either stare vacantly into the camera or look at their mobile phones) or the audience at home. They always have a point of view on the subject they have chosen to debate and freely share it with us—just like any other panellist. A few, like Sudhir Chaudhary of Zee News, spend their entire show talking at us—it could be about the advantages of the Agnipath scheme or about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Germany visit for the G-7 summit.
Ravish Kumar intersperses his argument-commentary with reports from NDTV India journalists, reports in the public domain, clips from other media outlets or court judgments. But it is essentially his talk show.
India TV’s Rajat Sharma explains the day’s big story and then delivers a little homily on it. Others make opening remarks, which tell you the side of the argument they are on and then they ‘open’ the debate to their guests. When they disagree with a particular point of view, they immediately, and without so much as a by-your-leave, interrupt the speaker and launch into a rebuttal.
Very often, a tu tu-main main follows with all the melodrama of a soap opera. The panellists accuse anchors of either not allowing them to speak (often true) or supporting one side over the other (also mostly true). The anchors become self-righteous—Rahul Shivshankar from Times Now and Aditi Tyagi of Zee News come to mind—and scold the offending panellists roundly.
Why Bigg Boss model might work
On other occasions, while reacting to the anchors’ opinionated remarks, panellists may get into verbal fisticuffs with one another. The anchor simply sits back and watches the spectacle, like us at home, for a few minutes before finally shutting them down and giving us their opinion once again.
It’s obvious that the role of the TV news anchor on Hindi and English news channels is not that of a moderator at all. It’s more like an instigator. But since the panellists for these nightly bouts are carefully chosen to represent extreme and opposing viewpoints, do they need to be instigated?
Why not do what Bigg Boss does? The inmates at the house interact with the master of ceremonies, actor Salman Khan, only once a week when he analyses their behaviour over the last six days. On a daily or hourly basis, they are dictated by a disembodied voice—‘do this, do that’, it commands them. This works well on a reality show, and since the nightly debates are also ‘reality shows’, it should have the same impact.
If there are no anchors in the evening, we may just get more news bulletins, shows recapping the day’s events that most of us missed since we were at work, or even interviews with people making the news. For instance, it would have been wonderful to see an interview with Madhya Pradesh cricket coach Chandrakant Pandit and the team captain Aditya Shrivastava (who, you ask?) after the state won the Ranji Trophy, beating no less a team than Mumbai.
Anchors could present these news bulletins—now wouldn’t that be ‘luvverly’ (thank you, My Fair Lady)? Sonia Singh does it on NDTV 24×7. Having no anchors has another advantage: channels would be forced to concentrate more on news than views, thereby allowing reporters more screen time.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)