I generally don’t approve of a lot of the fictional television content that comes over from India, littering cable channels with melodrama, caked foundation and plenty of unnecessary special effects. However I do understand the need for an NRI audience to find out what’s happening back at home. As such, I’ve noticed a growth in the amount of non-fictional broadcasting we receive, which is usually of a far superior quality than its fictional counterpart. I’ve become a fan of certain travel shows, cookery programmes and factual shows that actually showcase ‘real’ people, ‘real’ places and incidents - as opposed to the hyper-real Disney-esque characters. With this in mind, I thought the News, which is actually about real people - with its own dedicated channels, would surely be the epitome of quality broadcasting: smooth, efficient, objective. But as I’ve been finding out, even the News can step into the grey area as it becomes befuddled with its own sense of melodrama.
I didn’t want to make this argument based on one solid viewing, so I’ve waited awhile (several years in fact) before saying something. Since we’ve had Sky television, a certain number of Indian News channels, such as Star News (part of the Star TV Network) has very successfully managed to deliver international News, from an Indian perspective to NRI audiences. However, I do think this is the ball-part. There are occasionally features which are certainly questionable. The Network has been owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation since 1993 – but Murdoch issues aside there has been a lot of contentious programming.
For me, this first began during a casual dinner incident. The News flared in the background. There was a terrible flood. Horrendous News which you’d expect to be delivered in an objective stance, but to my surprise, the incident was being covered with the background score from Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator. Hardly appropriate you may think, since this wasn’t fiction, or ancient Rome. The producers had consciously attempted to heighten the tension by adding, what at the time was fairly evocative music. It got me thinking; perhaps we’re living in such a post-modern age where such cross-referencing of media is allowed – but I had thought the News would remain one exception - a sanctuary from the tumultuous riots of the soap opera.
Sadly this wasn’t an isolated incident. At repeated intervals I have seen incidents of Hollywood film scores, Bollywood theme tunes and various special effects used all over the News. This leads one to question just what message the News is trying to convey. Is it that the footage itself simply isn’t powerful enough? Which I would seriously contest. Or is it that audiences have become so accustomed to fictionally sensationalist methods of presentation? Perhaps everyone is now hot-wired to see a reaction shot (preferably repeated on loop for a few seconds) every time something terrible happens.
To be fair, this network isn’t alone in doing this, as competition from other networks has recently emerged. Naturally, not all hours of every day are filled with film scores, but the use of them even once is enough to make an informed viewer question to authenticity of the content. You can’t help but feel that Star News is becoming bolder, brasher, glossier – a little like its distant relative Fox. I also wonder, as we’re dealing with large international powers, whether Ofcom standards no longer apply?
Ultimately however, this leads me to think about the eventual audience and its vulnerability as a result of such an imposing broadcast strategy. Naturally, I give a lot of people credit for not succumbing to the beliefs in all the stories they’re presented with. But for every conscientious viewer, there are plenty of gullible ones. To get a second opinion, I put this notion to my parents. My mum gave a rough nod of understanding, but still insisted I set her favourite soap on record; my father remained glued to the News, almost in a hypnotic trance. I insisted that the headlines were over and weren’t going to change for about an hour or so, but still he was transfixed.
Later my mum returned to the discussion. She said that perhaps we also need to consider the plethora of channels available to view. With India’s population being incredibly vast, there are millions of viewers out there, not to mention internationally. Each broadcasting network is competing for their attention. Perhaps the gimmicks help them achieve this? People no longer need to go to the News, so the News is trying to impose itself upon the people. This sounded like a logical argument – but doesn’t forgive the increasing lack of objectivity, or constant graphic swishes across the screen.
She concluded by saying if only things were simpler, like when there was only the Doordarshan network. Yes it’s less flash, bang, wallop and government controlled, but it’s generally comprehensive. She got all nostalgic about a time when children would all flock to one house where a solitary television lay idolised like a shrine in the corner. An aerial would tune into a fuzzy black and white screen. A cool, calm, collected Newsreader would softly read the News - simple, but effective.