Satyamev Jayate: why the news really is not very good

Star India’s CEO Uday Shankar gives Governance Now a deep dive into the difficult world of news media and what ails it

bvrao

BV Rao | September 7, 2012




With Aamir Khan it is always all or nothing. All for Aamir and nothing for you.

So, it is not surprising that Aamir walked away with all the attention and kudos for Satyamev Jayate, the big programming gamble of Star India, the country’s largest network of general entertainment and non-news niche channels. Consequently, Uday Shankar, Star India’s CEO, got little or no attention for sticking his neck out, personally and organisationally.

Uday was taking a big risk in trying to change the game by launching a news talk show on entertainment TV on a scale and cost preordained for failure if you went purely by the accounting yardstick of money spent and money made. There are few in the media who have the appetite for risk-taking that Uday demonstrates.

But this is not about giving Uday Shankar or Star India their due. It’s not Governance Now’s place or position to be able to do that. This is about the larger questions that Satyamev Jayate has thrown up in its reincarnation, questions about the state and governance of the news media in the country.

I say reincarnation because Satyamev Jayate was first born six years ago (2006) on Star News (now ABP News), not three months ago on Star Plus. Uday was the CEO and editor-in-chief of Star News (this writer was part of Uday’s senior editorial team) and it was the peak of the silly season on television news. Satyamev Jayate, or SMJ as it was called internally, was launched as a prime time news show, a very bold thing to do given the reality of the news universe then.

From the concept (of socially relevant journalism) to the name and right down to the soft-white embossed logo of the show, SMJ was, as Uday says (see interview that follows) an attempt to step back and see the big picture. But it could also have been our collective atonement for the sins of omission and commission that drove news television to explore new lows every minute and achieve it with vengeful success. News channels became parasites of entertainment channels, a trend that continues even today. For example, ABP News (earlier Star News) put up a weekly show called “Asar” (impact) to capture the reflected glory of Aamir’s SMJ at little or no news gathering cost to the channel (zero-cost journalism, as Uday says).

The inevitable happened. SMJ 1 sank without a trace and that too in double quick time. Though the show retained its nomenclature for a long time after that, it became the favourite resting place for the Rakhi Sawant and Ash-Abhi wedding kind of stories… everything it was supposed to stand against.

Uday didn’t last long either. In 2007 he crossed over to Star India as CEO. In his journey from CEO Star News to CEO Star India is the story of the sorry state of the news channels, their obsession with ratings, their lack of vision and direction, the spurning of their social mandate and their complete disregard for quality. Of course, we are not talking about exceptions and exceptional circumstances, of which there are many good examples.

Governance Now has been itching to interview Uday since the launch of SMJ 2 in early May to find out what it is that makes a socially relevant news show a resounding flop on a news channel and makes it the most talked about show on an entertainment channel (SMJ 2 generated more than one billion digital impressions, that is, it figured in a billion discussions on Twitter, Facebook, SMS and internet). What is it that makes the CEO of a news channel “run away” (his words, see interview) after launching SMJ 1 on a news channel and walk with a new spring in his step after launching SMJ 2 on an entertainment channel?

The power of the Aamir brand and Star India’s money muscle are the obvious explanations, but not a complete answer. Uday is the only one who has straddled news and entertainment genres at the highest levels and hence uniquely positioned to fill in the gaps in our understanding. Sharp, incisive, intellectual, self-incriminating and brazenly bold, Uday gave us a deep dive into the difficult world of news media and what ails it. And why it will continue to ail.

Read the transcript of the interview: “It is very bleak for news... there is appalling crisis of vision and alarming poverty of talent”
 

Comments

 

Other News

Israel-Palestine War: Lessons from Past Peace Efforts

Israel-Palestine War: Give Peace a Chance By Dr. Joseph K. Thomas IndiePress, 243 pages, Rs 399 T

How inner work helps subvert painful narratives

Unashamed By Neha Bhat HarperCollins, 240 pages, Rs 499   * How do I connect better with my partner? *&nbs

Heatwave spikes power demand: measures taken to ensure supply

The Northern Region has been experiencing high power demand conditions due to a prevailing heat wave since May 17. Despite these challenging conditions, the highest ever peak demand of 89 GW in the Northern Region was successfully met on June 17. This achievement was made possible by import

PM to release 17th installment of PM-KISAN at Varanasi on Tuesday

Prime minister Narendra Modi will release the 17th instalment of the PM-KISAN scheme on Tuesday at Varanasi and more than 9.26 crore farmers will receive the benefits amounting to over Rs.20,000 crore. The PM will also distribute the certificates to more than 30,000 SHGs trained as Krishi Sakhis to work as

Taming turbulence in Indian aviation

The booming Indian aviation industry, among the fastest growing sectors in the world, is projected to be valued at $40 billion by 2027. But, despite robust demand for air travel across the country, more than 50 airlines have closed down in the last decade in India and most private airlines have closed with

PM Modi leaves for G7 Summit in Italy

In his first foreign visit after taking oath of office for the third time, prime minister Narendra Modi Thursday evening left for Italy to participate in the G7 Outreach Summit. “At the invitation of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, I am travelling to Apulia region in Italy to participat

Visionary Talk: Amitabh Gupta, Pune Police Commissioner with Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Governance Now


Archives

Current Issue

Opinion

Facebook Twitter Google Plus Linkedin Subscribe Newsletter

Twitter