TV not in the business of news, but of polarization: Vir Sanghvi

Senior journalist, columnist and author, Vir Sanghvi has said that television news these days has a loose relationship with truth, is not telling truth and polarizing opinions.

In a live webcast with Kailashnath Adhikari, MD, Governance Now during the Visionary Talk series held by the public policy and governance analysis platform, the senior editor has said that news television does not tell the truth nor it has any interest to do so.

“News has always been driven by people with narratives. It is in the business of polarizing opinions and sensationalizing news. It has a very loose and relaxed relationship with truth. Sometimes when the truth is convenient it broadcasts it, other times it plays it up. Unfortunately the truth these days is a scarce commodity” said Sanghvi.   

While speaking on fierce competition between news channels and hiking up ratings, Sanghvi said that competition within and between channels is not a new phenomenon and the nature of news since he was an active part of news has now changed. “The argument then was that you are only as good as the news you cover. There would be a discussion of 10-15 mins to illuminate the issue the package had set out for. That model of TV is dead” Sanghvi said .

He added that now nobody can afford to have bureaus and reporters and you now have studios. As against 12-14 guests on OB’s (outdoor broadcasting vans) earlier, now you have guests on Zoom so cost is zero. “You don’t worry much about news. You worry about opinion, creating excitement and you want people to shout in the studio and have a WWF element to it. It seems to be getting ratings. This is not a news channel in any significant sense of term and new genre half way between fiction and news.”

Adding that the definition and ratings of news and entertainment channels are blurring, Sanghvi, said, ‘‘ if you look at the universe for English news as a proportion of total TV universe, it is in the proportion of 0.1%-0.2%  which even in Hindi news is not so low. This is nowhere compared to entertainment channels.”“In general news channels are on decline all over the world and eventually go the way of newspapers .In another two years the same will happen with news television. Why would you want to watch news TV for 1 hour when you can get it in real time, on demand, on your mobile phone” he said.

He also said that unlike the sophisticated measurement systems used in the US or the UK where they look for demographics like how many people are likely to stay with the channel or buy things, Indian advertising is number centric. FTA (free to air) channels do not get much revenue out of subscription and look for advertising.

On social media fanning false information Sanghvi said the government is  always reluctant  to regulate because no one knows how to regulate the new media but at some stage it will have to bite the bullet.


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