(Published in The Sunday Guardian on 18 December, 2011, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/investigation/give-me-a-break-from-screeching-anchors)
Illustration Courtesy & Copyright: The Sunday Guardian. Unauthorised reproduction of this image is prohibited. This was sketched by the hilarious, extremely talented Sandeep Adhwaryu
A couple of decades ago, they were the bold new faces of Indian journalism. But now, these news channel heads have become synonymous with sensationalism, shouting, TRPs, and bad hairstyles. Worse, they feature in every discussion on the scourges of India.
When my fellow armchair solution specialist (FASS) and I meet, our first target is a podgy, bespectacled anchor whose jingoistic rants onour channel grate on our nerves.
I begin, “Imagine him on vacation – sits his family down, and says, ‘So, do we go to the beach or zoo? The beach, really, the beach?! So, there’s no place in this country anymore for people to actually go look at animals, is it? In that case, shall we tear up all the tickets to the zoo right here, right now, with the entire family as witness? Oh, now you say the zoo. Can you confess in front of this live audience that you’ve actually shifted your stance? So, you don’t care about the sand and water. Let those go to hell, let them rot away in the face of pollution, and we’ll just chew on popcorn and look at caged animals instead. Will that make you happy, HUH?’”
“What gets my goat is the way he breaks off into irrelevant tirades about the state of the nation,” FASS frowns, “Like, during the livecoverage of 26/11, he launched a crusade against media gagging after authorities finally woke up and blacked out TV around the Taj.”
“If you’re going to speak about feeding information to terrorists, shouldn’t we be discussing Scoop Lady?” I ask. That’s our nickname for a reporter who sabotages all effort at surprise attacks by landing up in strategic locations during sensitive operations, and making sure everyone knows she has. But, of course, she’s played no role in revealing positions to the enemy.
“Hold on a minute, let me speak to my contacts in the MoD and the PMO and get you the latest! Okay, okay, I’ll have to leave this discussion now. I’ll give you some exclusive news once I take this call a crucial source has made to my mobile phone. I’d like to reiterate that he made the call, taking note of my credentials, instead of waiting for me to badger him. We didn’t ask for this information.” Yeah, FASS is a good mimic. Then, he snorts. “If you’ve been pottering about for 20 years, surely you have some contacts? I mean, we don’t brag about our DVD guy and our foreign-made-foreign-liquor guy, no?”
“Don’t forget The Great Defence of Lobbying With a Lobbyist. I was doing a Mata Hari, people, come on! Anyway, Bollywood loves her enough to give all its reporters short hair.”
“But even Bollywood doesn’t make journalists remember a war hero by making his twin cry on television and shooting it from seven different angles. Watch, my nation, as the brother of a soldier cries, while I, the gutsy reporter, hold his hand.”
“At least Kapil Sibal’s on her side about freedom of speech. Sue the bloggers who piss ya off!”
FASS shudders. Freedom of speech reminds him of a print journalist we’ve loathed ever since she wrote an article about Indian men and orgasms. “After she moved to TV, her hair’s got shorter, and her diatribes longer,” he mutters.
“See, she wants to be Oprah,” I explain, “Sadly, there aren’t enough fat people who feel bad about themselves, enough closet gay people in the entertainment industry, or enough couples who want to discuss their crumbling marriages on TV in this country. So, all she can do is wear sleeveless society blouses and pastel saris, and milk bereaved parents for tears.”
“I prefer her to the husband, though. I mean, God alone knows why he wears a lapel mic. I’m quite sure the camera mic. is enough. If you live in Noida, you’ll hear him without. But no, they have to make us feel like we’re listening to Pantera playing Pink Floyd on Dolby Digital after an acid trip.” FASS should know.
“One pities his co-anchor. She’s so soft-spoken and mellow, you can see her flinch every time he yells.”
FASS continues, “You can also see her dabbing her cheek after a particularly emotional outburst. Beware the rain of spittle.”
“But all of them together still wouldn’t be half as annoying as our own Tim Sebastian. His show ought to be called Are You Sayin’?, with the nasal twang. I think he uses some technique involving high-frequency vocal emanations to make his guests’ hair stand on end when he interrupts. He’s comfy as long as they cower and cry, but give him someone articulate like Jayalalithaa or Benazir...”
“...and he writes a long defence of the interview in the next day’s paper.”