Indian television

Channel surfing: The Brexit vote has lessons for broadcast journalism too

This was one of those moments when you actually needed to watch TV news rather than rely on social media.

It was almost a masterclass in broadcast journalism to watch news anchors on CNN and BBC in the lead-up to the Brexit announcement. It’s always fun to watch two-anchor shows and picture what’s going on behind the scenes. It’s usually seamlessly done on international channels, or at least any goof-ups – a hazard of any live broadcast – are handled very well.

This time I thought there were some tell-tale signs of inter-anchor nerves, when Richard Quest had a few too many lines over Hala Gorani, though this was quickly balanced out by her doing some of the concluding toss-to-breaks.

Tracking the run-up to the result being called, I switched to the BBC. I found it a tad strange that the female co-anchor was mainly on her laptop, while the older male anchor was handling the discussion. (At least while I was watching.)

Of course, his questions were sharp as a tack. He asked one of his guests who was in the #Leave camp, whether a survey saying that there might be a split based on education – with educated people mainly voting #Remain – made his panelist, a well-educated sort of fellow, uncomfortable. The guest handled this with aplomb and went on to acknowledge being an anomaly of sorts. There was a strong point made by another panelist on how bitter things had become, and how everyone would need to do their bit to heal some of these divisions have starkly and so publicly rent the social fabric there.

We will soon see whether that translates into reality. Which brings me to my favourite phrase, and one that our exit pollsters and pre-poll analysts probably have learned up as well: “We’ll just have to wait and see.” This from anchors more than once, not to mention analysts who were being asked to extrapolate their findings even as the numbers were still coming in.

Of course, we have now waited and seen, but speaking of that moment, as a viewer? It was big news handled calmly, and one of those moments when you actually needed to watch TV news rather than rely on social media.

Brexit in the Indian media

I’m not going to comment on how Indian channels would have handled #Brexit breaking news if it were happening here, because someone’s already done that on Twitter, using the phrase “breathless lives”, if memory serves.

Actually, maybe just the one anecdote as an aside.

The previous evening, the BBC had tossed to Anil Kapoor in an interview of which I caught the tail end. In Madrid for the IIFA awards, the Bollywood star was asked about the Salman Khan controversy. Kapoor said something about knowing Khan’s intentions, though he acknowledged “the way Khan spoke was wrong”. But Kapoor essentially said, look his father Salim Khan has apologised, “it’s going on and on, let’s enjoy the award show”.

To which the anchor lobbed back, tone a bit amused at the father’s apology, asking, shouldn’t Khan himself apologise? They concluded with Kapoor saying, “Why not, it’s his prerogative, I’m sure he will.”

What a study in contrast: the evening before a vote like the EU referendum, I doubt any Indian news channel would be focused on anything else.

In any case, that was a nice nice breather from the rapid-fire news I was imbibing right before, on Aaj Tak’s Shathak Aaj Tak. This might be the first time I’ve heard someone talk faster than me on air! The anchor kept up with a rapid-fire pace of news, and interestingly the main box had the video, while she was in a box in the corner, keeping up admirably with the quick cuts and the dramatic music. The only let-down was that the video didn’t earn its pride of place, with several chunks repeated, over and over.

A clock on the side ticked us down. My attention flagged at 09:48 minutes left to go, though I had lost track of how long I’d been watching. The key takeaway? It was now 9pm, and I had probably gotten most of the big news.

I flicked over to ABP News to find things much calmer. Including the on-air ads. While I still find it odd to see ads in the ticker space, where one is accustomed to seeing news flashes, this is a considerable improvement on the commercials splashed all around the news boxes on Aaj Tak, where the headlines are essentially in a giant ad jacket.

ABP News was on its top story, the Nuclear Suppliers Group meet. The reporter did a nice donut, which involved him linking into his own package with an introduction, following which his report played out, and then back to the reporter for a quick conclusion. The package itself was a solid explainer, listing out four reasons why the NSG meet is important to India. While the repetition of visuals in the story was a drag here too, there was overall a clean feel visually. We came back to the anchor, who crisply tossed to his own interview from earlier in the day, taking the story forward.

There’s hope for this news business, after all.

Amrita Tripathi is an author and 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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