Indian television

Channel surfing: English news TV doesn’t have the numbers, so why insist on setting the agenda?

Even combined, the weekly audiences of the five English news channels cannot compete with the straggler on the Hindi news list.

With claims and counter-claims as to who the nation is watching, who is news rather than noise, who believes they are putting viewers first, and who is writing what in the national interest (not to mention who’s displaying how much patriotic spirit at any given time), you could be forgiven for thinking that our raucous English language news media is setting the nation’s agenda.

Thus, a peek at the Broadcast Audience Research Council India ratings is eye-opening – though it bears stating that there are many challenges in measuring television viewership in India, including sample sizes.

To quote from an interview with the BARC CEO Partho Dasgupta in the Business Standard earlier this year, “BARC measures viewership habits of India’s 153.5 million TV households. Of these, 77.5 mn are in urban India, and 76 mn are in rural India. Currently, 22,000 homes are seeded with BAR-O-Meters. In the second year of operation, we will expand our panel homes by 10,000, as mandated by government guidelines.” As the article notes, after the “joint venture with TAM, it is now the only ratings body in the Rs 54,200-crore Indian TV sector.”

Info Courtesy:
Info Courtesy:

Of course, industry players, broadcast journalists and the entire media fraternity are well aware that Hindi news channels outstrip English news channels in terms of plain eyeballs. And yet, if you are watching English news channels, there is a lot of strutting and shouting, me-too catching up, pats on the back as to who sets the national agenda and made the most impact with which given story. Increasingly, it is about who can be the loudest and showiest.

There’s more. Hindi journalists and some anchors will readily tell you how each network seems to have its own internal hierarchies. They may get the massive viewership, but there’s still a snob factor inherent in the attitude of the English sister news channels. It sounds like institutionalised bias, perhaps, if not overt prejudice, but English channels are buoyed presumably by the bang-for-the-buck prestige advertising clients, not to mention our own complicated post-colonial hang-ups.

The bigger Hindi news anchors have a cult following, no doubt (exhibit A: Ravish Kumar of NDTV India) and they may not even notice this anymore. They also might be too busy going out to do stories to actually make note of this fact. But there is this “step-sisterly” treatment, mentioned by more than one peer at more than one media network.

So it always intrigues to note that even combined, the weekly audiences of the five English news channels can’t compete with the straggler on the Hindi news list, let alone the market leader Aaj Tak (with India TV close on its heels).

Who’s setting the agenda? Once we exit our echo chambers, you be the judge!

Who will watch the watchmen?

Which brings us to another talking point: when does news become propaganda? Presumably, when the so-called Fourth Estate toes a particular line by a particular stakeholder or political party or a point of view. The corporate ownership of channels is well-discussed elsewhere and beyond the scope of this article, but let’s look at other ramifications.

Since last year, there has been much commentary world-wide on decisions to air, for example, the brutal videos to come out of the ISIS propaganda machinery. Groups like ISIS (and previously, Al Qaeda) have mastered the art of mass dissemination. They clearly understand the power of the image, and work hard to keep their digital media footprint alive, thus being able to spread the word, gain new followers, inspire more violence and terror. This is multiplied exponentially by cable news. They must be delighted to have their material (sometimes with images blurred) beamed to millions world-wide.

Aren’t news channels sometimes the classic vehicle for propaganda? Was the news media complicit in spreading their message? Should they not have made the news wheel internationally? When does news go beyond informative to dangerous? And would it be even more dangerous for news-makers and gatherers to be stricter gatekeepers?

Where does that slippery slope lead? Who’s to say or prevent someone from taking the call to broadcast or not broadcast news of civil war, civil unrest, as “against the national interest” or national agenda? The news coverage of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir is the latest case in point – long past a flashpoint, actually. There is a trust deficit, that’s glaringly evident, and the English news media and several journalists seem to be playing into that “Us vs Them” scenario.

It’s dangerous territory. So the bigger question when it comes to the news – admittedly, in a country which has a little too much of Big Brother – who will watch the watchmen?

Amrita Tripathi is a freelance journalist and author. She can be reached @amritat.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

It’s the new year and it’s already time to plan your next holiday

Here are some great destinations for you to consider.

Vacation planning can get serious and strategic. Some people swear by the save and splurge approach that allows for one mini getaway and one dream holiday in a year. Others use the solo to family tactic and distribute their budget across solo trips, couple getaways and family holidays. Regardless of what strategy you implement to plan your trip, the holiday list is a handy tool for eager travellers. After having extensively studied the 2018 holiday list, here’s what we recommend:

March: 10 days of literature, art and culture in Toronto

For those you have pledged to read more or have more artistic experiences in 2018, Toronto offers the Biblio-Mat, the world’s first randomising vending machine for old books. You can find the Biblio-Mat, paper artefacts, rare books and more at The Monkey’s Paw, an antiquarian bookseller. If you can tear yourself away from this eclectic bookstore, head over to The Public Library in Toronto for the Merril Collection of over 72000 items of science fiction, fantasy magic realism and graphic novels. With your bag full of books, grab a coffee at Room 2046 – a café cum store cum studio that celebrates all things whimsical and creative. Next, experience art while cycling across the 80km Pan Am Path. Built for walking, running, cycling and wheeling, the Pan Am Path is a recreational pathway that offers a green, scenic and river views along with art projects sprinkled throughout the route. You can opt for a guided tour of the path or wander aimlessly for serendipitous discoveries.

Nothing beats camping to ruminate over all those new ideas collected over the past few days. Make way to Killarney Provincial Park for 2-3 days for some quiet time amongst lakes and hills. You can grab a canoe, go hiking or get back to nature, but don’t forget to bring a tent.

If you use the long-weekend of 2nd March to extend your trip, you get to experience the Toronto Light Festival as a dazzling bonus.

June: 10 days of culinary treats, happy feet and a million laughs in Chicago

Famous for creating the deep-dish pizza and improv comedy, Chicago promises to banish that mid-year lull. Get tickets for The Second City’s Legendary Laughs at The UP-Comedy Club - the company that gave us the legendary Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Key & Peele. All that laughter can sure work up an appetite, one that can be satiated with Lou Malnati’s classic deep-dish pizza. For dessert, head over to the Ferrara Original Bakery for mouth-watering treats.

Chicago in June is pleasant and warm enough to explore the outdoors and what better way to soak in the sunshine, than by having a picnic at the Maggie Daley Park. Picnic groves, wall climbing, mini golf, roller blading – the park offers a plethora of activities for individuals as well as families.

If you use the long weekend of 15th June, you can extend your trip to go for Country LakeShake – Chicago’s country music festival featuring Blake Shelton and Dierks Bentley.

August: 7 days in London for Europe’s biggest street festival

Since 1964, the Notting Hill Carnival has been celebrating London’s Caribbean communities with dancing, masquerade and music ranging from reggae to salsa. Watch London burst into colours and sparkle at the Notting Hill Carnival. Home to Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens Museum, London is best experienced by wandering through its tiny streets. Chance encounters with bookstores such as Foyles and Housemans, soaking in historic sights while enjoying breakfast at Arthur’s Café or Blackbird Bakery, rummaging the stalls at Broadway market or Camden Market – you can do so much in London while doing nothing at all.

The Museum of Brand, Packaging and Advertising can send you reminiscing about those old ads, while the Clowns Gallery Museum can give you an insight in clown-culture. If you’d rather not roam aimlessly, book a street-art tour run by Alternative London or a Jack the Ripper Tour.

October: 10 days of an out-of-body experience in Vegas

About 16 km south of the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and St. Rose Parkway in Henderson, lies a visual spectacle. Seven Magic Mountains, an art installation by Ugo Rondinone, stands far away from the wild vibe that people expect in Las Vegas and instead offers a sense of wonder. Imagine seven pillars of huge, neon boulders, stacked up against one another stretched towards the sky. There’s a lot more where that came from, in Las Vegas. Captivating colour at the permanent James Turrell exhibit in Louis Vuitton, outdoor adventures at the Bootleg Canyon and vintage shopping at Patina Décor offer experiences that are not usually associated with Vegas. For that quintessential Vegas show, go for Shannon McBeath: Absinthe for some circus-style entertainment. If you put the holiday list to use, you can make it for the risefestival – think thousands of lanterns floating in the sky, right above you.

It’s time to get on with the vacation planning for the new year. So, pin up the holiday list, look up deals on hotels and flights and start booking. Save money by taking advantage of the British Airways Holiday Sale. With up to 25% off on flight, the offer is available to book until 31st January 2018 for travel up to 31st December in economy and premium economy and up to 31st August for business class. For great fares to great destinations, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of British Airways and not by the Scroll editorial team.