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Why do anchors have all the fun? Because it’s prime time on Indian news TV

If only all reporters were given more respect and airtime, we would be looking forward to switching on our TV sets at the end of the day.

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In India, why would anyone want to be a TV news reporter when it’s the anchors who have all the fun? Most of them hog the limelight and become (in)famous for dispensing gyaan while sitting in air-conditioned studios. Outside, reporters swelter outside courts— for the Gyanvapi Masjid case or the Qutub Minar case — playing sound recordists. Yes, this is unkind, but sadly, true.

When it comes to the plum reporting assignments, the anchor-editor goes places, too. Between ‘Love in Tokyo’ at the Quad meet and spring in the Swiss Alps, at the World Economic Forum summit, they are having a jolly good time as either the cheerleaders of Prime Minister Narendra Modi or talking to other Indians.

It’s the strangest thing: as noted on social media, news channels travel to Davos for the WEF summit and interview Indians. Union Minister of Commerce Piyush Goyal or Gita Gopinath of the International Monetary Fund (India Today), Karnataka chief minister Basavaraj Bommai or Adar Poonawalla of Covid vaccine fame (NDTV24x7) are some we saw. This is when the resort is teeming with billionaires, businessmen, and heads of State or governments.

In Tokyo, editors and anchors of Republic TVAaj TakTV9 BharatvarshIndia TV, NDTV 24×7 celebrated ‘PM’s magic’ (Aaj Tak) by speaking exclusively to ‘ecstatic’ Indians (India Today). Even when an India TV reporter did some fine reporting and discovered people protesting against China, he didn’t speak to them. Ditto happened during the PM’s recent European tourno Japanese, Danes, Germans or French were spoken to.

Is Indian television news the ‘anti-nationals’ of other countries?

Hitting new lows

Back home in India, reporters are doing arm exercises with microphones. They hold it close to their chests, then thrust it into people’s faces— lawyers, petitioners, politicians, even the aam aadmi—and listen to them with ‘utmost seriousness’, asking basic questions like “What happened in the court?”.

On CNN InternationalBBC World or Al Jazeera, anchors interview and listen to their own reporters on the ground and in the studios — the fatal shooting of 19 children in Texas, US, Tuesday, saw senior CNN correspondents, not ex-policemen or ‘experts’, analysing the latest shooting.

Worse, Indian TV reporters are often replaced by mobile phones and anonymous studio voiceovers. Similar reports on international channels are always acknowledged with the names of the reporters. But here, channels ignore that— historical reports/backgrounders on how Aurangzeb hated Hindus (ABP News) and the Mughal invasion of India (India TV)  are two such examples of faceless, nameless voiceover stories.

Then there are the video reports: All the reporting on what exists inside the Gyanvapi mosque has been done through video camera footage with TV anchors in studios measuring the ‘shivling-fountain’ and telling us what is what— since when do they have a degree in archaeology? Similarly, a Monday report regarding Jammu and Kashmir Lt. Gov. Manoj Sinha’s visit with Kashmiri Pandits was video-reported on a mobile phone with the studio anchor filling in the text — the same goes for reports of a young boy in the `PFI Hate tape’ (Times Now).

PM Modi is not the only one with the magic. The TV news channels’ have their own magic tricks. Come 4 pm-5 pm, they do abracadabra-chhoo and poof! Reporters vanish – just when viewers are heading home and may switch on the TV news for the day’s developments with reporters providing news capsules from their beats.

Also read: NFHS shows double-digit drop in Indians reading papers, watching TV & listening to radio

Good time for reporters

Earlier, there was the ‘news bulletin’ — it still exists on BBC World and Al Jazeera — hour upon the hour, where reporters provided news and analyses from their beats. Now, evening and ‘prime time’ has ‘Fatafat News’ (ABP News) with up to 200 news items read out by a studio anchor, followed by their debates.

So, when do reporters get to be seen and heard in their own right on real news? If you’re on News X, the answer is — almost never, for it has the fewest reporters in sight. Otherwise, it is during the day when we’re all at work.

Or else, when they have to explain complex legalese, say, in the Qutub Minar case. Reporters on CNN News 18India TV, and India Today did a fine job here. But mostly it is when there is no court case on a mandir-masjid issue, a tour, or a speech by the PM that reporters get their share of the screen. Wednesday was one such day when the ‘Kapil Sibal Show’ (not the Kapil Sharma Show) took over daytime broadcasts, and reporters at NDTV 24×7Times Now, and India Today got plenty of airtime. Election time is good too — a paradise regained for reporters who get to travel and report on poll campaigns.

Alternatively, a brutal crime will allow reporters airtime. Think Lakhimpur Kheri, the ‘Chennai street murder spree’ (India Today), or the killing of terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday.

Speaking of J&K, if you aspire to be a TV reporter, pack your bags and move up North — Kashmir is a favourite hotspot for news channels.

Many reporters know their job and when given the chance, do it well. NDTV India’s evening show `Desh Pradesh’ saw worrying ground reports on the water crisis in parts of the country and why gas cylinders are beyond the pocket of many rural households. India Today did well on water shortages, too. An ABP News reporter in Patna explained very clearly chief minister Nitish Kumar’s caste census gambit.

If only all reporters were given more respect and airtime….

Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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