The past few days exposed yet again the lopsided attention of the national television media in a rather dramatic way. The headlines as well as discussion panels of the news channels have been dominated overwhelmingly by the event of a “no ball” which deprived Virendra Sehwag of a well deserved century against Sri Lanka. The contention is, this “no ball” was deliberate to ensure the explosive Indian batsman his moment of glory. The inference is, cricket is supposed to be a gentleman’s game and hence this kind of lack of sportsmanship is simply unpardonable. But then, as another former cricketer and an expert commentator pointed out on a news channel, this is all part of the game and indeed there has been at least one occasion in which Sehwag himself had resorted to such desperate and unsporting act. But, even on the fourth day of its occurrence, the matter continues to be the chief fodder of all news channels, as if there are nothing else more newsworthy happening anywhere in the country. Even Kashmir, has been silenced by the new cacophony. No doubt cricket is important and extremely popular in India, even infinitely more popular than the official national game, hockey. However, can it be more important than the every other problem that beleaguered India faces today? Can Sehwag hitting another century solve the problem of hunger, impoverishment, unemployment, food security etc, which are endemic in this country?
Whatever else is said of the international media, be it the American CNN or the British BBC, they would not do this. The BBC in particular probably would have seen it as an interesting news, but nothing as grave as to make a national issue out of it. They did not do this when in the South Africa World Cup Football, 2010, there were worse acts of sporting desperation, including the atrocious Luis Suarez handball that prevented Ghana a victory against Uruguay and a berth in the semi finals. Even this did not dominate headlines for more than a day. In fact, many were even of the opinion that it was sporting instinct and Suarez lived up to expectation of a hotly contested important World Cup match and did what was a veritable personal sacrifice to save his team. It must however be added here that there was much more cynicism involved in the Sehwag case, as there was no way the “no ball” could have saved the Sri Lankans from defeat, and that the only thing prevented was another coveted feather in a fine sportsman’s cap. Still, is the matter so very important to deserve prime media space for four days and running in the national television media, and this too at the neglect of other issues?
The trouble, as has been said so many times by so many, the behaviour of the media, especially the television, has come to be so very determined by advertising, so much so that no programme which would not attract advertisement is no longer considered news. Northeast does not make news material primarily because of this only. News has ceased to be about news per se, but more about popularity. There are certain compelling financial factors though which make televisions allow advertisers to determine news value. As explained by television news channel insiders, to produce a 30 minute programme on Manipur for instance, the cost would be at least Rs. 3 lakhs. This will include flying down a reporter or two along with a camera crew or two, as the case may be, their stay in the field, board and lodging etc. If this programme is not able to bring in at least Rs. 3 lakhs of advertising money, it would be a loss for the company. In such a case, news value or no news value, the channel would most likely drop the programme plan. This is where most of the news ideas from the Northeast end up. The only organisation which can do this without concern, and consistently too, is the government owned Doordarshan, which incidentally runs a studio in practically every state capital, at a loss or otherwise, subsidised by public money. This would amount to merely wishful thinking, but perhaps private news channels should be made to borrow a bit of the Doordarshan revenue model. Let it also run partly on public money and then be obliged to give coverage to all parts of the country equitably. Let their revenue be not just from advertisements but also from subscriptions from consumers, just as for instance subscribers pay a fee for subscribing to DTH (direct to home) services run by private companies. This incidentally is how the BBC does it, and perhaps this is also why its programmes are not solely determined by advertisers.