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What Is the Self-image of TV News Channels?

A few television news channels in India seem to be coercively inducting viewers into combative nationalism.

 

In the aftermath of the tension at the India–Pakistan border, the partisan “representation” of the post-Pulwama developments by both print and electronic media has led to many saying that they have stopped watching many of the television (TV) news channels. This expression can be understood in terms of the scare and fear that these channels have created in the minds of those who would like to reasonably reflect on these developments. What is more worrisome was the use of particular hashtags by these channels to scare people into silence. Where do we place the question of editorial ethics in the use of hashtags by TV news channels? One could argue that hashtags make viewers aware of an event or a TV news channel’s web presence. However, this argument is tenable only when the hashtag performs such a classifying function. But, in the case of these channels, they seem to perform the function of propaganda by fulfilling a three-dimensional role: embedding political meaning into hashtags, directing viewers and audience to an already polarised narrative, and encouraging them to participate actively in a vitriolic discourse.

TV anchors on these news shows have been constantly condemning the concerned liberal voices that opine that the notion of nationalism is much larger than the one that has been thrust down the throats of these anchors by the government. Their spectacular presentation of conflict between the two countries is aimed at mobilising our attention away from other problems and towards a singular focus on the conflict at the border as if there is no other issue that is worthy of attention. These anchors seem to be suggesting that the only way to ensure security for the nation and everyone in the nation is primarily through waging war against terrorism. Security from the external enemy, thus, is projected as the primary social good. This attitude brings enormous moral pressure on the poor, the unemployed, the destitute, and the farmers in distress to make national security their primary concern, while, on balance, the wealthy do not feel this pressure, nestled safe and satisfied in their affluence and privilege.

These TV anchors are instrumental in raising expectations and excitement among common people. The latter did expect the Indian Army to cause greater damage to the enemy and also to feel excited about knowing, for example, the number of terrorists who are claimed to have been killed in the bombing by the Indian Air Force. The TV discussions, thus, contributed to the government’s design to seek allegiance only through external aggression and internal suppression of legitimate critiques.

Aggression narratives go very well with the common people’s propensity for revenge and aggression, and this propensity becomes the only engagement in the life of even the poor. For all these sections and TV channels, the government’s revenge through aggression is supremely satisfying and absolutely suitable on the grounds of nationalism. They seek to coerce us into consenting to the government’s notion of national security.

Such TV channels, in effect, tend to drive a deep wedge even in the internal social life of a country. This is so because, in the time of “peace,” citizens often seek an internal target to vent their aggression. Having an enemy either at the border or next door becomes a constant natural need. This kind of performative warmongering of the TV channels raises the question as to how they perceive themselves. In a sense, any channel, including those in question, would perceive itself as reporting news without distortion and not manufacturing news in the newsrooms.

But, the “official” performance by some of the TV channels has generated moral incongruence between their self-perception and their self-expression. If the self-perception of a TV channel is to be the harbinger of peace and harmony in its expression, it cannot be violently condemnatory of the concerned voices, and cannot propagate violence and hatred. Though the anchors of these TV channels may continue to hold the concerned voices in utter contempt, it is necessary that these channels reason with their anchors, as the public image of the channels would be assessed in terms of the congruence between their self-perception and self-expression. They need to show a sense of responsibility to enrich the normative content of nationalism, which essentially is freedom from hatred and social insecurity, the promotion of civic harmony, and of course, national sovereignty. TV is supposed to make people socially vigilant about evils that threaten human values.

It is clear by now that there is incongruity between self-perception and self-expression as far as these TV channels in question are concerned. The incongruence is caused by two aspects. First, they are driven by the pressure of target rating points and advertising. And, second, the overconfidence, if not arrogance, of some of the anchors ruins their moral capacity to question themselves about what they are doing. Such self-questioning would require them to view themselves as different from and independent of the government. Instead, it seems like it is mutual advantage that defines the relationship between some TV channels and the government.

Updated On : 12th Mar, 2019

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