The biggest constitutional amendment that India needs in 2020 is this: abolish TV news channels.

SHAILAJA BAJPAI 2 January, 2020 11:07 am IST

Ah, a new year and a new decade — both deserve to be launched on the wings of a hope and a prayer.

So, here we go:

We, the TV viewers of India, do solemnly hope and pray that television news will be better than it was in 2019.

In that noble cause, we would like to suggest the following constitutional amendments.

First, let’s abolish Indian television news. No, that needs to be rephrased: let’s abolish TV news channels because the amount of news most of them carry can be compressed into a tweet.

If that’s too radical a detox for TV addicts, how about we just ban prime time news debates? Isn’t that a genius idea? Imagine an evening without TV news anchors who endlessly talk and never run out of words?

Imagine no news anchors (sing this to the tune of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’): bye-bye Anjana Om Kashyap, Rubika Liyaquat, Sudhir Chaudhary, Rajat Sharma, Rohit Sardana, Ravish Kumar, Amish Devgn, Sreenivasan Jain, Nidhi Razdan, Rahul Shivshankar, Navika Kumar, Rajdeep Sardesai, Gaurav C. Sawant, Zakka Jacob, Bhupendra Chaubey, Arnab Goswami and Arnab Goswami…

Ah, what bliss it was…

What would the news channels telecast, instead?

Er, the news, maybe? BBC does it;  CNN International does it too. So why can’t Indian news channels do it? Why can’t they just broadcast hourly bulletins of news about events and developments across the country and the world, like they used to do a decade ago? Just some good old-fashioned ground reporting by local and state correspondents who know the lay of the land?

The good examples

If we absolutely must have prime time debates — many news anchors would be jobless otherwise and may raise the already alarming unemployment rate  — then can we have debates of the kind we watch on Mirror Now, ET Now’s ‘India Development Debate’ or NDTV 24×7’s ‘The Big Fight’ – debates where each panelist is given sufficient time to voice an opinion before yielding the microphone to another person?

Not like the likes of Republic TV’s Arnab Goswami: as panelists watch, he shouts “everyone quiet” before pronouncing lengthy judgments on the CAA and the NRC and the “dirty lies” of the Congress; he interrupts panelists the second they begin to speak and allows then allows them to shout simultaneously so that they all sound incomprehensible. (Please listen to last Sunday’s debate and you’ll understand).

Currently, all Indian news anchors behave like the chief guest on their own shows: they deliver the main address (aka sermon), and panelists listen meekly and impassively. Occasionally, they raise their raise hand to speak like we did in the school room — the anchor  chooses to either let them talk or simply ignores them.

The ‘Great Indian Studio Trick’

May we have debates where the anchors ask questions and let others do the answering?

No classroom lecture from Sudhir Chaudhary on the ‘tukde tukde’ gang’s latest perfidies (Zee News) or a ‘Reality Check’ from Sreenivasan Jain on the BJP’s most recent duplicities (NDTV 24×7).

No Ravish Kumar monologues on ‘godi media’ (NDTV India) or Navika Kumar on ‘Lutyens’ Delhi’ (Times Now).

And while we’re asking, could news channels please locate a few new panelists, too? The BJP’s national spokesperson Sambit Patra has to stop the ‘Great Indian Studio Trick’, which consists of appearing in five different news studios at the same time.

As for RSS thinker and lawyer Desh Ratan Nigam and advocate Vivek Reddy, when they fill out their National Population Register (NPR) forms, they will likely identify NDTV’s Delhi office as their permanent residence. And then there are the Poonawallas, Tehseen and Shehzad, who have made themselves at home in every Delhi news studio — from Aaj Tak to Times Now.

A few more unsolicited suggestions:

Doordarshan: like the national carrier Air India, DD ought to be sold to anyone who will buy it. Else, simply hand over its infrastructure to the Asian News International (ANI), the news agency that has already become the Narendra Modi government’s official news channel.

It could also merge with the erstwhile NaMo TV (remember that election stunt pulled by the BJP?). Actor Akshay Kumar could then interview PM Modi and his other half — Home Minister Amit Shah — on a new weekly version of ‘Mann Ki Baat’. The channel could also feature their speeches.

To counter this, the Congress could launch RaGa TV starring Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi. Viewers can switch from one channel to the other for their daily dose of ‘tu tu main main’, thereby allowing other news channels to report the news.

Wish list of new channels

Alphabet channel: This could be for JD(U), AIADMK, BJD, TMC, NCP, DMK, CPI, Shiv Sena and all the other regional political parties that never get a look in on the prime-time debates — JD(U)’s Pavan K. Varma and TMC’s Chandan Mitra notwithstanding.

‘AAP Ka Channel’: Like NaMo TV, this could be launched for Arvind Kejriwal immediately and continue until the 2020 Delhi assembly election — he’d love that.

Rajya Sabha TV and Lok Sabha TV: These should become streaming platforms that you pay to watch only when Parliament is in session.  Otherwise a waste of taxpayers’  money.

People Live: an authentic Peepli Live where the public, whom we seldom hear from unless it’s about rising pollution levels, the severity of the cold, the price of onions and more recently the CAA, NPR and NRC, speaks up and is heard.

Finally, on this wish list, one dedicated channel to Pakistan. Call it what you like. Zee News, Zee Hindustan, India TV, Aaj Tak, ABP News and CNN News18 can pool their resources and launch it. The channel would devote itself to all the conspiracy theories about Pakistan, the machinations of the Pakistan Army, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the prowling terrorists – and highlight the latest scandals to engulf Prime Minister Imran Khan or Pakistan’s cricketers.

Such a channel would end the India-Pakistan hyphenation and free up time for news from other neighbouring countries like Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, etc., which we only see or hear about if PM Modi visits them or when their heads of state come to India.

Any takers?