Every few years, one of our news channels rebrands itself as the place for news. News is back, they proudly declare. So apparently, they’d been doing this other thing till now, and they’re letting us know that they’re finally going to try to do the thing that they were supposed to have been doing all along.

It’s like watching an addict clean up his act for the umpteenth time. Sure, he says, the heroin is out of my system! I’m not touching that alcohol again, she assures her support group. That piece of cake was my last sugar high, they promise their dieticians. But the minute things get tough, they’re back to square one, chasing the dragon again.

Just like the addicts who relapse, our news channels never redress the underlying causes of their addiction. They only deal with the superficial exterior. Look, we’re going to present the news differently from now on. No more panel discussions at prime time. We’re going to try to provide you with what we think is actual, brand-new information. Don’t worry, we will not go back to the old format! At least, not until the fleeing advertisers make our channels’ owners finally lose their patience with our experiment and bring us back to normal.

They keep forgetting that they can’t escape their basic nature.

For viewers, it’s like watching a version of Pinocchio in which he never gets to turn into a real boy.

One big (not so) happy family

NDTV 24x7 is that old, wise, relative who never got married and lives in a house with two rooms, where one is the bedroom and the other his study. The house doesn’t have any of the modern conveniences and he only spends his measly pension on books and imported alcohol. Everything in the house has been gathering dust because the rickety old watchman who was supposed to take care of it died a vague number of years ago.

India Today is that relative whose Attention Deficit Disorder remains undiagnosed. He’s always doing something new whenever you meet him. One day he’s an astrologist, telling you what stones to wear to make sure your wife gives birth to a boy, the next day he’s a salesman for Amway. Lately, he’s stopped showing up at any family gathering because he owes money to almost every person there. The only reason he came to your party was because he wanted to talk to you about this huge investment opportunity that he says will change your life… forever!

Times Now is that relative with anger issues around whom everyone walks on eggshells. All you want to do is get through dinner without creating a scene, but his constant taunts and needless provocations force you to come down to his level and unwittingly participate in a yelling contest – which, of course, you never win.

News X is that spinster aunt who always smells of desperation, self-loathing and cat food. She picks up a drink the minute she enters a party and keeps getting nastier and drunker as the evening progresses. She sometimes tries to argue like the rageaholic uncle, but she doesn’t have it in herself to match him. At the end of every family gathering, someone finds her in the washroom, crying softly to herself.

India TV is that old widow who has now turned into a spiritual guru. She only wears a white saree and a thousand pearl necklaces. Her hair looks like a bird’s nest, but she is always surrounded by people because she’s always giving a discourse. People come to her with complaints and ailments and she pretends to meditate and then gives them generic solutions. Her fans believe her no matter how ridiculous she gets because she once told someone to stop smoking and he didn’t get lung cancer.

News18 is like that rich uncle who can’t stop talking about how great he is. He’s rude to anyone who isn’t in his tax bracket and treats anyone more powerful than him like royalty. Whenever he looks at someone, he creeps them out, no matter what gender they belong to.

The anger games

Being sanctimonious is one of our most popular national sports. We love feeling like we’re better than the other person. People will use the flimsiest and silliest of excuses to feign superiority over someone else. If our country was a fictional character, it would be the shaming nun from Game of Thrones.

Our news channels are built to exploit this and facilitate our shaming instincts. Either you can get angry about whatever horrendous thing happened that day or you can be livid about the fact that people are screaming bloody murder over a non-issue. If neither of that suits you, you can be the sort of person who asks where either side was when something similar but unrelated was happening. It doesn’t matter what makes you indignant, the TV channels are happy as long as you’re metaphorically foaming at the mouth.

This is why a channel that simply reports the news would never work in India.

We don’t care about the drought affecting millions of people across the country. But if you tell us about the person who was beaten up by a mob for washing his car with running water, we will sit and watch that all day long, letting everyone know how that man deserved to be beaten.

We know that something bad is happening with the environment, and we would give a fudge about it but it seems so boring. On the other hand, if you show us an apocalyptic news report about how the politician-bureaucrat-builder nexus constructed a number of buildings over what used to be a lake, whilst scary music plays in the background, we’re going to make that video go viral.

And we usually don’t care that our free-speech rights keep eroding. It happens so much these days we’d have to quit our day jobs to keep track. But if you want us to shake our heads and strongly yell at the TV about the second coming of the emergency, give us an example of someone being persecuted for saying something that we agree with.

What I’m saying is, why try to fix something that no one thinks is broken?