Indian television

Channel surfing: One news network has rebranded but there are others that also need to

For starters, bring out the female prime-time anchors.

Ring out the old, ring in the new! You cannot have missed the razzmatazz over on CNN News 18, the erstwhile CNN-IBN. Old wine in a new bottle this is not, as you will know if you’ve seen the jazzy new editor, promotional videos featuring reporters and huge hoardings.

The channel looks slick, one must concede. (Not for us, sadly, the clean screens and non-seizure inducing graphics of international channels, but that’s another rant for another time.) Nonetheless, here’s what’s already got some attention online. In one of the promo videos, the reporters march through a desert, looking determined and driven. Very professional.

The mic is dropped, kicking up some dirt, so you can’t even say it’s not arty, not even when you see the rows of cameras and tripods. Underwhelming, maybe because it’s overplayed?

In the main anchor promos of CNN News 18, there’s only one woman in the picture. It’s from one corner of the picture that my friend and ex-colleague Shreya Dhoundial stares us down very impressively and looking every inch the professional.

This is all but a “manel”, though. And it’s not that the channel or network has a dearth of solid women anchors. According to this promo, the stars are the prime time warriors, Zakka Jacob and Bhupendra Chaubey, as well as Dhoundial’s 8 o’clock co-anchor, Arunoday Mukharji, Vir Sanghvi, Swapan Dasgupta and Ayaz Memon.

That almost-sexism bothers me on some level, but why single out CNN News 18? If you look at the prime time line-up of the other major players, it’s quite the man-wich. (Except for NDTV).

Times Now: What can we say about this delightful game-changer that hasn’t already been said before? You’d be forgiven for thinking there’s only one anchor on the channel. The editor, Arnab Goswami also must be credited with the innovation of having multiple versions of his own face on the ticker, side or top of the screen, even while he’s on it.

Irritatingly, other channels have also been replicating this “design” element, though one hates to break it to them that it’s not going to work unless it’s the Original, the Nation’s Voice himself. Flicking past Times Now on any given day of breaking or other news, I rarely see any other anchor’s face – whether by design or no, I can’t quite tell.

But the writing sure is on the wall (I mean ticker): this is a one-man show. Prime time is Arnab Goswami. It doesn’t matter what you think of that, because that just might be the secret sauce. The channel remains leaps and bounds ahead of their competitors in the English news space.

So what is it? Do we need our prime time anchors hopped up on testosterone? Are there not enough, or simply too many, fungible anchors during the day for us to see some of them promoted to prime time? Or are they just marking time, quite literally?

India Today TV: The channel revamped itself more than a year and a half or so ago, and is very well served by its prime time line-up of stalwarts. You have the impeccable Karan Thapar, a slightly mellower Rajdeep Sardesai and a much younger Rahul Kanwal rounding out the troika.

I don’t see the women anchors except in the day. Again, this could all be about TRPs and I’m pretty sure the marketing and head honchos know who their target audiences are and who they want to watch. This is down to a science in the United States of America. But what a pity if they haven’t done the surveys – intensive or dipstick – to prove it.

Of course, there’s the good old warhorse to prove everyone else wrong: NDTV, which declares it will not sensationalise but still has to chase the ratings like everyone else. NDTV doesn’t need that bindi of a dot in its logo to prove its gender diversity and equality. The channel has a stellar prime time line-up of women. Nidhi Razdan and Barkha Dutt do take on their male counterparts day after day, and may or may not be aware that there is a glaring gender disparity across the rest of the news waves during prime time. Intentionally or no, they make up for the gender gap. Or, as one senior anchor from another channel told me laughingly, they “overcompensate” for the rest.

Apparently the channel will also be revamping soon, so we can wait and watch to see what changes. But there we have it: Sexism, cult of the personality, and the tried and tested.

What I wouldn’t give to see an Amy Goodman this side of the pond. AJ+ recently put up a video of hers. They’ve declared a “Trumpland,” she says, calling for journalism to go back to being the “Fourth Estate,” not “For The State.”

Now that’s slick. And without even trying too hard.

Amrita Tripathi is a recovering news junkie. She has previously worked for CNN-IBN and The Indian Express. At times, she may have a glancing familiarity or more with the news players mentioned.

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