Media circus and bitter reality: 21 million jobs lost but nowhere on TV  

TRP ratings prove that Indian TV viewers prefer fiction over facts

Media circus and bitter reality: 21 million jobs lost but nowhere on TV  
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Satyaki Chakraborty/IPA

The disparity between newspaper headlines and what the 24X7 TV news broadcasts daily couldn’t be any wider. If newspapers are frontpaging the unprecedented GDP growth rate contraction by - 23.9 per cent, or the fourdecade-high unemployment figures, with 21 million jobs lost in the wake of the COVID-19 induced lockdown, our TV channels are focused on hounding Rhea Chakraborty. Despite little evidence against the young actress, former girlfriend of the late Sushant Singh Rajput, Chakraborty is subjected to a daily witch-hunt, and if the BARC ratings are an indication, that’s exactly what the Indian news viewers want to see on their TV screens.

According to a report in the portal Newsminute, TV editors are quelling dissent in the newsroom by citing the soaring TV ratings, compelling the reporters to engage in the public mobbing, shoving and jostling of the 28-year-old actress, while she’s being summoned and arrested by government investigative agencies. Channels like Republic are pestering Chakraborty’s retired Army doctor father, the security guards in the building, the drivers, neighbours, and of course friends and family members. Reporters are stationed outside the multistorey building where the Chakrabortys live, and anyone going in or out, including officers of the Mumbai Police, are being subjected to humiliation, mistreatment and harassment.

As India overtook Brazil in the number of COVID-19 cases, and looks slated to push the USA to the second position in a matter of weeks, TV news saturates its coverage with Kangana Ranaut’s hysterical theatrics, ranting against the Mumbai Police, comparing Mumbai to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and getting Y category from the central government as a reward for steering the narrative. As Kangana and Rhea become two opposite ends of a macabre show over the dead body of a talented actor whose battle with mental health ended tragically, our TV news remains committed to sinking even lower in its unethical pursuit of salacious ratings.

Could the proximity of the Bihar assembly elections alone explain TV channels’s unhealthy obsession with the SSR saga, the collective throwing of caution to the winds? Apparently not. The TV ratings prove that a majority of urban Indians are more interested in microscopically examining every tasteless fabrication shown in the name of news than they are in the number of mental health issues rising as a result of lockdown, unemployment and the general social hysteria. Instead of questioning the Union government on its multiple failures, Indians are transfixed by TV screens, consuming Rhea’s public humiliation and Kangana milking the controversy to suit herself.

Almost 41,000 farmers and daily wagers took their lives in the past year, but only one suicide is holding the nation captive. Centre is saying it’s unable to pay the GST dues to the states, because of the economic contraction, thus endangering our federal structure even more. Economists like the World Bank’s Kaushik Basu, former RBI governors Raghuram Rajan and Urjit Patel, renowned academics like Arvind Panagariya, Jayati Ghosh, Amartya Sen, occupying different schools of economic thoughts, nevertheless agree that India’s economic situation is the worst since Independence, and will only go from bad to worse if governance doesn’t improve.

Yet, it seems TV editors consider a family tragedy and a limited investigation into an actor’s death more headline worthy than the multiple tragedies befalling the country now. As China gets more aggressive towards an increasingly diminished India, which it seems is economically sinking and socio-politically fracturing, the fourth estate prefers distraction over investigation, hounding the weak over questioning the powerful. What’s worse is that a whole lot of Indians prefer this elaborate fiction than the bitter truths taking our country down the rabbit hole of uncertainty. What could be more unfortunate than that?

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