The Old Is Scared of The Brave New World

Habits of a lifetime are difficult to change. And yet; I am trying. And trying. But not with much success!

A major part of my sixty odd years have been spent absorbing information from sources that I have long been familiar with. Newspapers. Magazines. Newsreels produced by the Films Division of the Government of India. Books. The radio. No; let me hasten to correct that! Not the radio; but the All India Radio.

All of these were known sources of information and there was never any reason to distrust what one read, heard or was told. For the sceptic, there was always the BBC, on the short-wave radio, but the accent and the static often made it difficult to understand what was being said.

Then came the Doordarshan news. Unimaginative, monotonous and dull. But oh, so comforting! The fuzzy pictures were in black and white, but they always managed to appear sepia.

We did not then appreciate how lucky we were! We saw the faces of the newsreaders and we became familiar with them. It was only sometimes that we actually saw the blood and gore that they were telling us about. Notwithstanding the visual nature of TV, the news was still heard, rather than seen. It remained the age of newsreaders; and there was no great departure from the comfort of All India Radio.

The ‘newscasters’, the News Presenters and the Anchors were yet to invade the idiot box. For that matter, television itself was yet to become the idiot box.

At specific times, the Doordarshan newsreaders were welcome guests in our drawing rooms – because that is where the television sets used to be kept in those days.  Our news bearers – the one with the balding top, the one with flower in her hair, the one with the childish voice, the one with the sweaty forehead and the one with the heaving bosom – all appeared at fixed times and then faded out; leaving us informed and with the option to switch the telly off or to leave it on for the Chitrahaar which would follow Krishi Darshan.

The television set itself was switched off after the 11 pm news bulletin – when Doordarshan said goodnight. The screen froze into a test pattern and the TV set started emitting a high-pitched scream. Even if one had dozed off, one knew it was time to switch the TV off and go to bed.

It was an uncomplicated life in which we chose to be informed at our own pace and leisure. The important thing was that we remained informed about happenings in the world.

In due course, we even managed to become familiar with, and then to accept, information flow from that new-fangled Newstrack. Every week the news would come, stuffed into a tape in the VHS format, and we got to ‘see’ the news unfold.  It was then that the blood and gore entered our lives! We who used to be immune from violence in Zanzibar, that flood in Xinjiang and that fire in Calgary were all of a sudden thrown into the maelstrom. We got wet, we got singed and we were moved like never before! We could see the blood ooze out, we could see the earth shake and we could smell the cordite!

Ever since then, the experience has only kept getting worse. Sitting in the comfort of our homes, we get shot at, we suffer heat stroke, we starve and we freeze half to death. Changes over the past two decades have been imperceptible – but they have brought about a paradigm change!

Two major developments that took place was the shifting of the television set to the bedroom and the ‘news’ channels becoming 24X7 broadcasters.

It is clear that now there are more channels than news and so it has been becoming increasingly difficult for simple-minded people like me to understand what is happening in the world. In fact I don’t know what is happening in the world!

Because of paucity of news, many news channels have started staking claim on events and even people and places. Thus it is no longer a storm in Teekop but the exclusive storm of Channel X in Teekop. The Everest would not be there had Channel Y not discovered it! The only comparable concept is the ‘ownership’ of a boundary hit in a cricket match. “Aur ye laga BSNL chokkaaaa!! One is expected to understand that had BSNL not been there, the batsman could not have hit that four.

The paucity of news encourages the channels to recycle, reuse, regenerate and reprocess the same banal stuff. It is the repackaging that makes the difference. Every happening is breaking news! The viewer is bombarded with many screaming headlines only because the news channel has obtained footage of the event. A flooded hut in Valparaiso finds mention but not the flooded city of Guwahati. Because no visuals of Guwahati are available and television after all is a visual medium, stupid!

From Breaking News to Faking News is but a short step. Many news channels do not hesitate to use morphed photographs, doctored videos and misleading captions.   Alternate sources of news I understand. But the term ‘alternate news’ has me stumped. Today’s lexicon also includes terms like post truths, alternate facts, sponsored news and advertorials.

There are other new terms that I do not even pretend to understand. Pray what is ‘paid news’? Or for that matter a sponsored feature? It is painful, albeit sometimes amusing, to find new usages for commonplace English words. Whoever would have thought “Fifty flashings in five minutes” refers to a succession of news – flashes, rather than to some hyperactive weirdo?

The fifty flashings are sometimes accompanied by sound effects and a succession of dazzling captions. Individuals who might be susceptible to epileptic fits need to be careful because the flashing lights and rapidly changing headlines might just trigger an attack.

It is not uncommon to come across newsreaders rushing through their texts. It reminds me of the statutory warnings of harmful products or the fine print of some particularly shady deal.  It really makes little sense. If a channel has to broadcast the news 24 hours a day, why try to give compress 50 news items into five minutes? Is it so that the remining fifty-five minutes of the hour can be devoted to commercials?

We oldies are yet to get used to the fact that on any news channel, there are more views than news. All the anchors have an opinion; and they are oh so opinionated! They don’t just air their opinion; they assert that you are a fool if you dare to differ.

It saddens me to see acknowledged experts getting snubbed by know-all anchors. I weep for the self-respecting worthies who have ignominies heaped upon them by intellectual pipsqueaks. It pains me to see reasonable arguments being rudely interrupted. And I marvel at the commitment of these participants. Sometimes I wonder what quantum of lucre entices them to enter into slanging matches where victory is determined by the decibel level? After all, these experts go into such programmes fully aware that it is not a discussion but ‘The Big Fight’ or something similar.

As a rule of the thumb, I deem it wiser to switch to another news channel when more than two panellists start talking at the same time. It is another story that I have to often change commercials on nine other news channels before I discover one not endorsing some product.

In ancient times, Perry Mason was a popular fictional character who, along with his sexy sidekick Della Street, unravelled many crimes in court-room dénouements.  Many in the media, inspired by Mason and Della, believe that their primary task is to be investigative journalists. Their core competence is to teach the NIA, CBI, FBI, CIA, CID, STF and others in the alphabet soup how to do their job. This school of journalism believes it is the finest. But it, too, is bested by members of the judicial/hangmen brigade who scream “I am judge, I am jury!” and proceed to vilify and condemn individuals, none of whom have any opportunity of defending themselves.

I have held a totally unreasonable belief that the truth is sacred. Hence, in my silly idiosyncratic manner, I see no good reason why I should believe any news that is purveyed by some channel under captions such as Adhi Haqiqat Adha Fasana (Half Fact- Half Fiction) or Ardhsatya (Half-Truths). And why should a news channel call its programme “Sansani!” – The Sensational! It is not sensational news but sensationalising of the humdrum.

I am an oldie. I am uncomfortable with many new ideas. New things like prurient stuff being purveyed as news because of the fig leaf that it is a news story.  New things like the airing of the salacious as sharing ‘real’ crime stories.

I yearn for the primitive days when there was no twitter, no Facebook, no social media of any kind, no round-the-clock television. I was really ignorant then. But I do believe I was far better informed about what was happening in the world. So, give me the old, give me the monotonous, give me the insipid and give me the bland.

But give me the news, for God’s sake!

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