It is not the government but the viewers who decide the media narrative, and the viewers today want a nationalist narrative, not the so-called pseudo secular one
Meteoric rise of Republic TV to the top slot in English news channels as per BARC rankings has given a severe jolt to other TV channels,
particularly English TV news channels. Such is the shock that many channels have walked out of BARC which they had helped set up with new standards after dismal failure of earlier TAM rankings. Arguments supporting this move are nothing but word- play. They should have waited for 2-3 weeks to see how audience finally settles down in next 2-4 weeks rather than pulling the plug on the messenger who pointed out to their diminishing relevance.
It is a knee- jerk reaction betraying their panic. Some of them have admitted that overall viewers for English channels have increased with the advent of Republic. Many of our
viewers may not be aware that the English viewers form only a miniscule section in the overall TV viewership. It is too embarrassing a gap to be disclosed here. One can go to BARC site to check out. The English news channels should have welcomed acquisition of new viewers to their fold.
By showing this intolerance for a system that was appreciated by all the channels when it was implemented, they have only exposed their anxiety. All of us have noted a huge change in news presentation with advent of Republic. All English channels have shaken out of their routine drawing room kind of debates. This is a welcome sign. It is the way healthy competition should be, not mud-slinging against competing channels. Today, one is forced to surf different channels to look out for something new, some new scoop or for some new development. Viewer loyalty is no more guaranteed. Content is the king.
This feverish change in all the TV news presentation itself tells us that government has not tamed the TV channels, it is the audience that has tamed them and forced them to change the way news is to be disseminated.
If you were to view BARC rankings since advent of PM Modi on the national scene, you will find that the channels presenting nationalist viewpoint have prospered in ranking as compared to anti-government and so-called ‘secular’
channels. Such is the impatience of audience with negativity as even old venerable doddering DD has gained much better viewership.
Rise of Times Now was solely due to its strong unapologetic nationalist approach and unabashed criticism of ‘secular’ ‘liberal’ lobby under stewardship of Arnab Goswami. People who couldn’t stand the noise of his debates still viewed the channel as it seemed to reflect their viewpoint. It is instructive lesson for competition and sour secular lobby that after Arnab’s exit the new editorial team of Times Now didn’t deviate from the earlier line that had paid them rich dividends. In fact, the new team is even more strident, being confident that this is what audience wished to hear and see. It’s moot point is why bosses of the group allow them to take this line though they push for typical JNU type narrative in their newspapers.
It is a common understanding that even regional channels that are objective and nationalist have seen consistent rise in their TRPs. One sees a similar viewership bias for Hindi channels that promote nationalist view point.
Thus, the change in media narrative that critics and sour faced opposition lament about is not the taming of the media by the BJP. They could never do it earlier, nor do I think they have the sophisticated arm twisting talents of the Congress to do so. The so-called liberal secular media didn’t reconcile itself to rise of Modi and all that the change represented. So they have suffered in terms of viewership, and revenues since 2014-15. Then, the reality stuck them hard after the UP results and we saw a shift in the stance of many of the oracles of Secularism who spouted wisdom and spread the ideas like ‘intolerance’ and presented ‘Breaking India’ forces as the genuine face of ‘dissidence’ as our political legacy.
If you look at this change in media outlook, it has been gradual. If the BJP had managed it, you would have seen change in advertisement patterns and sudden mid-stream change in media narrative by 2015. It didn’t happen. Most of the channels reconciled themselves to the new India after UP 2017. Till then they were in state of denial and carried on their war against the Modi or the BJP brand of politics.
The presentation of a Republic or a Times Now or Zee TV etc may be shrill or lack sophistication. They may not carry faux liberal tones. But, the Left-leaning
channels and editors leave audience with no choice. Audience wants to hear about core national issues that worry them, not patronising sermons.
One feels that all so- called national TV channels are far too focused on political stories and scandals, stories that fan anxiety and despondency. Many like us feel that there should be a better mix of genuine criticism about policy issues and projection of positive developments too. Unfortunately, it is still not happening. One sees no serious discussions or
discussions on matters like the Finance Bill or the GST that impact our lives seriously. Such bills are passed without discussions while
disturbances hog the headlines and strain
opposition’s vocal cords.
A channel that can bring in this kind of mix has better chances of scoring with the viewers. But, till then, they will stick to channels that are in sync with their own view of the nation; an ‘Idea of India’ that is very different from
apologetic guilt ridden ‘Idea of India’ being served to them for last 70 years. Majority of audience have taken their blinkers off. One hopes electronic media would too remove their blinkers and take a dispassionate look at the changing national scenario rather than lashing out at the messenger.
(The writer is a Mumbai-based columnist)