Covid-19 is challenging almost everything we’ve always done. The TV news media are risking their lives and bringing in important news to us in the safety of our living room—they are no less than the frontline healthcare and administration workers.
While people are trying to change behaviours to cope better, it’s time for the TV news media also to change some of their ways for good.
Covid-19, a word that we did not have in our vocabulary about 120 days back, is now the most spoken, written, and searched word. No other event in recent history has impacted the whole world as much as Covid-19 has.
Currently, the whole world is focussed on only one thing — how to tackle this crisis.
Experts in healthcare, research, public policy, international relations, economy, livelihood and migration are bravely leading this fight against the pandemic.
There are lessons and lessons being learnt in each of these areas every day. This article focusses on shifts that the TV news media also need to make.
Great Service to the World
Each and every journalist, every reporter who is going about their media activities, is knowingly exposing themselves to risk in doing their job.
We recognise, appreciate, and salute them for their invaluable service to the world.
Surrounded by fake news in social media, we can rely only on the news media for real news and validated facts.
Story of a Shift
Recently, a doctor in Chennai died of Covid-19 after contracting the virus.
A friend of his had to bury the martyr all by himself, after getting beaten up and driven away by the crowds.
Later that day, the friend made a moving appeal to the media on TV. He said, if a health worker dies, please do not release the news immediately; please give some time lag, so that the martyr can be given a final send-off with dignity and privacy.
Such an appeal to the media is not for the first-time. You would recall the terrorist attacks of 26/11 in Mumbai, when the handlers were able to give precise information and instructions on the phone to the terrorists inside, as they could watch the real-time TV newsfeed of the situation outside.
At that time, we took a while to figure out the mistake, and began releasing the newsfeed with a time-lag.
Unfortunately, that lesson did not stay with us in the new context. In the current context of Covid-19, the TV news media need to make a few more shifts, and the time is now.
Society is experiencing an exceptional state-of-mind currently; people are edgy, stressed-out and anxious about the high level of uncertainty.
They are worried about food, job, health, loans, business and the future of their lives; people's states-of-mind are not the same.
Everyone needs to recognise this and be conscious of this inflammability.
It’s Not Business As Usual
Every single TV news professional needs to be sensitised to the fact that their TV studios may be the same, but the living rooms, houses, mohallas, and states-of-mind of those who watch their news programmes have undergone a radical change.
In volatile times like these, it cannot be business-as-usual for the news channels; they must rethink their ways of ‘breaking’ the news, conducting debates, interviewing folks, and above all, they must understand the facts before reporting them.
Masala in Green Tea
On most occasions, the reporting content is laced with cynicism and consciously aggrandised. Even a ‘no news’ is reported as a new finding. In a recent interview with a doctor, a month into lockdown, the reporter highlighted that “doctors are constantly living with the fear of contracting the virus”. Although a matter of concern, we know this for many weeks now; it’s not news.
There’s no need to make every news about Covid-19 spicy, when audiences are already emotionally fatigued, cognitively overloaded, and unsure because of all the fake information and provocative messages all around.
Sensationalisation is being followed as a rule of reporting -- with high- pitched hyperactive tones, sarcasm, and negative slants while quoting statistics and data.
Stretch to Fill Nothings
TV news channels are also found stretching their news content to fill in the ample air time available.
This is evident in various ways -- non-crisp reports from the field journalists who try to fill their allotted minutes rewording the same stuff on and on; video clippings repeating on and on, sometimes even having no connection with the news being reported; non-substantial interviews with anybody they can fix an interview with, adding no value to the audience’s understanding of the situation (although some of the interviews with experts have been valuable).
What Kinds of Shifts
It’s simple, when someone is grieving in the family, when someone is sick at home, when someone is stressed, our tone towards them naturally changes to neutralise that state-of-mind. Something like that is expected of the TV news media as well.
TV news media need to change their style at least until the current crisis is over. A simple seven-point programme is -
1. Neutralise the tone of reporting
2. Don’t sensationalise everything
3. Understand the facts before reporting
4. Have few adversarial, high-on-emotion debates
5. Stay politically non-partisan
6. Restrict ‘Breaking News’ graphics before it loses its value forever
7. Report sensitive issues with prudent time delay
If the TV news media made these shifts, they would have done more than their bit in helping people deal with the Covid-19 crisis and adding calmness to their state-of-mind, not aggravating their anxieties.
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