These days, I forego the regular ‘comedy’ shows on the television that generally feature unlaughable jokes and judges who’ve had a whiff of the laughing gas. Instead, I tend to flip through the scores of news channels that populate my television in search of rib-tickling news items, hence obliterating the compulsion to laugh at woeful one-liners.
How can I not? Every single one of these channels invariably features a young, shrill reporter shouting from his navel about some irrelevant triviality or the other. Except for the change of the background scene, you wouldn’t notice you’d changed the channel.
In the din of these abject yet vociferous reports clamouring for your attention, you may be treated to a good dose of laughter as you read the ‘breaking news’ headlines. And maybe, a dose of grammar too.
My younger friends, who are just beginning to tread in the marsh of English grammar, love to shout out the type of sentence construction being used in the headlines for the benefit of our neighbourhood. Day in and day out the active and passive voices and the reported speeches used in the same context in the headlines have made them mini scholars in their respective classes. I condone their screams for a simple reason: let the channels at least benefit them, for they don’t seem to contribute to my (or anyone else’s I know, for that matter) intellectual development.
As the standards of news reporting continues to plummet, rather like Sourav Ganguly’s fame and form, I cannot help but contemplate a ‘crass-o-meter’ designed to accurately measure the crassness of most news channels. No partiality here! The crass-o-meter will factor in various parameters of judgement: the shrillness of the voice of the reporter, the egregious headlines, the indigence of the issue in terms of relevance, the disparagement of important events, and most important, the laughter it can generate.
When you ruminate on the stars of yesteryear, or worse, the week’s worth of family drama sagas that breed on different channels, even half an hour of news channel surfing can put a smile on your face for the rest of the day—either due to the misplaced sense of 24-hour service that resorts to anachronistic approach of ‘miracles’ or at the interpretation of an incident.
If the former is the devil, the latter is the deep sea. ‘Miracles’ take place in our country a dime a dozen. Most of these are not genuine, but just a smokescreen to foster on the faith of the people, or a way for the perpetrator to achieve his means. Years ago, I remember scouring the news channels as they all displayed the same miracle that had occurred: a Ganesh idol was ‘drinking’ milk. Call me a sceptic or brand me a downright infidel, but I think there has to be a scientific explanation for it. The networks covered interviews with saffron-clad babas, but not a single scientist.
The bad became worse after the screening of the movie 2012. Clips of Earth blowing up (with really bad graphics) did rounds on all the channels, each presenter more self-assured than the previous one that 2012 will actually bring the end of the world as we know it.
I don’t know about the rest, but if the news channels continue rerunning these clippings as a sorry excuse for breaking news, the world will definitely end in 2012. The epoch of ‘worst’ has already been reached; how much deeper can we sink?
Media, be it print or electronic, is an integral part of the national cacophony, and recognized as the fourth pillar of democracy. It is a direct measure of the openness of the government, but not the transparency. You may not go missing after expressing a critical view of the Indian government, but you may have trouble procuring the driver’s license.
Active, passive, and reported speech headlines are a poor excuse for the 24-hour funda of news channels. So are weekly summaries of all reality shows that exist.
Unfortunately, the democracy relies on a feeble crutch: the substandard utilization of freedom of expression in the form of the media.
We transformed the pillar into a crutch. Maybe, it’s time to return it to its days of glory, something of a Cinderella role-reversal.