There are some things serious newspapers do not?at least, should not?do. And that is to sell their souls. But it appears that that is exactly what The Times of India did when it invited noted writer Vikram Seth to be its ?Guest Editor? for a day. The whole exercise sounds too commercial to be taken in good faith. The Times of India has gained sufficient notoriety for allegedly willing to sell news space for a pot of gold. That is its privilege. Bennett Coleman is in business and apparently not in newspapering and if it wants to sell news space, that is its business. But even conceding that, it is a silly exercise to ask an author to be ?Guest Editor??whatever that means. This is not to question Vikram Seth'scredentials.
If The Times of India had asked Seth to take classes on how to write entertaining copy?one wonders whether he can do that?one can at least appreciate the gesture. No doubt Vikram Seth has his own ideas on how a newspaper should deal with news. For that matter, one can'tthink of any reader who doesn'thave his own ideas of specific news coverage. The Times of India is apparently not interested in readers? views. It must impose Seth on them. Considering the amount of news coverage that Seth has received since the publication of his latest book, it is clear that the publishers have done a good public relations job. Since Seth has started the fashion, why stop with him? Why not have Amitabh Bachchan, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, and a whole file of celebrities get their turn to be ?Guest Editors?? That would be a lot of fun. And if they are not available lesser Page 3 celebrities would do just as well. After all, The Times of India is in the business of entertainment, ain'tit? These days it is hard to distinguish between news and information, especially infotainment.
In fact we have reached a stage when it is becoming increasingly difficult to find news in newspapers. If one has to believe one'seyes, marital reconciliation between Karisma Kapoor and poor husband Sunjay is big news. Hindustan Times celebrated the event with a four col X six inch colour picture of the couple. For Bombay Times (October 22), knowing ?Best sexual position? is news. So nice to know. When Darryl Crasto, a sports correspondent of The Times of India passed away, it was not news. Sports correspondents are mere mortals, aren'tthey? One can'tput them in the same category as Karisma Kapoor, can one? Yet Hindustan Times (August 15) did carry an obituary, recalling that Darryl was founder Sports Journalists? Association of Mumbai and also immediate past President of the Sports Journalists? Federation of India.
News only gets four per cent of the viewership. According to Mr Dasgupta, the break-up is as follows: entertainment has 23 per cent viewership, Hindi movie channels get 16 per cent, regional channels get 20 per cent, music channels get 5 per cent, sports channels get 11 per cent, kids channels get eight per cent and foreign movie channels and channels such as Studio Cafe and Discovery get 11 per cent.
More recently, another distinguished journalist, Chanchal Sarkar, former director of the Press Institute of India, passed away. He was chairman of the Asian Federation of Economic Journalists and a consultant to UNEP and UNICEF. But the news was largely ignored by the English media with the exception of Deccan Herald (October 11). Time was when newspapers ran regular obituary columns. No longer. The attitude is: death is common to all, isn'tit? So what'sthe big deal? But how enlightening it is to read obituaries, for instance, in foreign journals! A good example is an obit on Leo Sternbach in The Economist (October 15).
But the question will be asked: Who, pray, is Leo Sternbach? The answer is: He is (or was) the inventor of Valium and he died on September 28 at the fairly ripe age of 97. The man was a phenomenon. Though many people who spend sleepless nights are aware of a drug called Librium, many more would be only too well aware of Valium which became astonishingly popular between 1969 and 1982 when it became the most prescribed drug in the United States. Sternbach did more for medicine than just discover a tranquilliser. He claimed 241 patents, including Mogadon, a sleeping pill, and Klonopin, for epilepsy. These discoveries helped turn Hogfman-La Roche into a giant of the pharmaceutical industry Writes The Economist: ?In the best traditions of chemists like Davy, he (Sternbach) dosed himself with his own stuff. One substance gave him such hallucinations that he had to sleep them off for two days. Librium, he said, made him feel very tired, and Valium made him depressed. When life got too much (as it seldom seemed to) he preferred Scotch.?
One supposes that The Times of India does not consider this as news. We live and learn. Values, as is now being increasingly claimed, are changing. Free Press Journal carried an interview with Kunal Dasgupta, CEO of Sony Entertainment Television, the other day which makes interesting reading. He was asked how come Sony has decided not to launch a news channel. His reply is revealing. He said: ?I have always believed that news is outrageously outmoded. News is passe. In the universe of television, news only gets four per cent of the viewership.? According to Mr Dasgupta, the break-up is as follows: entertainment has 23 per cent viewership, Hindi movie channels get 16 per cent, regional channels get 20 per cent, music channels get 5 per cent, sports channels get 11 per cent, kids channels get eight per cent and foreign movie channels and channels such as Studio Cafe and Discovery get 11 per cent. These facts are revealing and reflect the character of an entire nation.
If Mr Dasgupta is to be believed NDTV is losing money and Aaj Tak is up for sale. What all this means is that increasingly people are getting drugged by vulgarity and soap operas.
If Mr Dasgupta is to be believed NDTV is losing money and Aaj Tak is up for sale. What all this means is that increasingly people are getting drugged by vulgarity and soap operas. A general entertainment channel charges around Rs 21,000 for a 10-second slot while some of the news channels are charging as little as Rs 200 for a 10-second slot. The entire stress today is on ?youthfulness and family entertainment?. So that is it. The Times of India has no time for news. The emphasis is on youth. It tells us the kind of social responsibility that our newspapers exercise these days. Forget values. Take Valium whether as a drug or as entertainment.
The presumption is that youth don'twant education; they want entertainment. So like television, our newspapers, too, would prefer to cater to entertainment. Education? What is it? Perhaps one should not ask too many questions. We don'thave leaders. We only have Buta Singhs and Lalu Prasad Yadavs. They are our contemporary icons. Everything has to be ?dumbed down? to be accepted. Politics, communication. Even truth and honesty and self respect. According to Mr Peter Mukherjea, CEO, Star India, we need a ?digitalised mindset? to meet a whole set of new challenges. Now we know.