"TV not in business of news; it is in the business of polarisation”

Senior journalist Vir Sanghvi says it has as a loose and relaxed relationship with truth

GN Bureau | January 15, 2021


#Media   #Vir Sanghavi   #journalism  


Television news these days has a loose relationship with truth, says senior journalist, columnist and author Vir Sanghvi, adding that it is not telling the truth and polarising opinions.

In a live webcast with Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Governance Now, during the Visionary Talk series held by the public policy and governance analysis platform on Thursday, the senior editor said that news television does not tell the truth nor it has any interest to do so.

“News has always been driven by people with narratives. It is in the business of polarising opinions and sensationalising news. It has a very loose and relaxed relationship with truth. Sometimes when the truth is convenient it broadcasts it, other times it plays it up. Unfortunately, truth these days it is a scarce commodity,” said Sanghvi.  



While speaking on fierce competition between news channels and hiking up ratings, Sanghvi said that competition within and between channels is not a new phenomenon. He said the nature of news since he was an active part of news has now changed. “The argument then was that you are only as good as the news you cover. There would be a discussion of 10-15 minutes to illuminate the issue which the package had set out for. That model of TV is dead,” Sanghvi said.

“Now nobody can afford to have bureaus and reporters and you now have studios. As against 12-14 guests on OBs (outdoor broadcasting vans) earlier, now you have guests on Zoom so cost is zero. “You don’t worry much about news. You worry about opinion, creating excitement and you want people to shout in the studio and have a WWF element to it. It seems to be getting ratings. This is not news channel in any significant sense of term and new genre half way between fiction and news.”

Sanghvi said the definition and ratings of news and entertainment channels are blurring. “If you look at the universe for English news as a proportion of total TV universe, it is in the proportion of 0.1%-0.2% which even in Hindi news is not so low. This is nowhere compared to entertainment channels.”

In general, he said, news channels are on decline all over the world and eventually go the way of newspapers. “In another two years same will happen with news television. Why would you want to watch news TV for one hour when you can get it in real time, on demand, on your mobile phone,” he said.

He also said that unlike the sophisticated measurements systems used in the US or the UK where they look for demographics like how many people are likely to stay with the channel or buy things, Indian advertising is number centric. FTA (free to air) channels do not get much revenue out of subscription and look for advertising.

On social media fanning false information, Sanghvi said the government is always reluctant to regulate because no one knows how to regulate the new media but at some stage it will have to bite to the bullet.

The leading journalist also that the difference between news during the earlier Manmohan Singh government and the government today is that there are many more people willing to attack the government. The Manmohan Singh government was not really brought down by the BJP, it was destroyed by Anna Hazare agitation which attracted a significant no. of people. It was essentially a con job done by Arvind Kejriwal and Anna Hazare using him as a token. That agitation happening in Delhi took off because of wide coverage by news channels. Today media not keen on attacking the government…. The big change is that though there is some criticism of the govt it is nothing like the level we had in the earlier govt.

While commenting on the present state of governance, Sanghvi said there is a difference between the centre and the states. While there is not much difference in the states, he said the center is very different now. Authority is much more centralised, ministers have much less freedom compared to what they used to have earlier. The civil service is strong enough. There are many more bureaucrats and experts keeping a watch on what’s happening. Sanghvi said that the upside is that in the last six-seven years there has not been a single scam or financial scandal, so the impression is that this government is a model of probity which is something that we could not say about earlier government.

On government facing flak for farm laws, Sanghvi said there was a miscalculation on farm laws. “The Modi juggernaut has swept most of north India and now also eastern India. It has always been stopped at the entrance of Punjab. Modi’s popularity in Punjab as compared to the bordering state of Haryana in not as great. The government misunderstood the extent of feeling in Punjab and did not quite realise the impact of farm laws in Punjab. Now that the farmers have taken a confrontational attitude, it is part of Mr Modi’s persona that he does not back down. And their claim is we are not willing to negotiate and you have to withdraw or repeal the laws. For Mr Modi, given the impression that has built up to be a strong man to repeal a law which he himself has praised as a great law taking India forward this would not be acceptable. Hence the search for via media like the Supreme Court appointed panel … as of now I am not optimistic, I don’t see any easy solution.”

Sanghvi also said that he has sympathy for farmers when they say they don’t trust the panel as it comprises of people who earlier have on record have praised and said how wonderful the laws are and already know what they are going to say. But he said they must be willing for talks and hoped that the tractor rally on January 26th is non-disruptive.

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