Aajtak and ABP, the popular hindi news channels air a program called ‘Dharm’ and have a dedicated section prominently featuring on their landing page by the same name on their website. Zee news offers the same content under the title spirituality while NDTV does it under its section titled Aastha.
Aajtak airs a program ‘rashiphal’ centred around astrology to fill the early morning segment, while ABP, India TV, Zee news and several others have their own typical versions, distinct in only the anchor, the modulating voice and the vedic guru. Like the religious programs and the shows covering gossip of the entertainment industry, astrology too finds a special mention on the news channels’ digital platform.
Over a decade back, the news space was caught up with its fancy for supernatural. Bhoot, pret, aatma and shamshan used to be the keywords for TV news afficionado in that pre social media age. Though India TV’s Rajat Sharma could be traced as its progenitor, the genre found such a popular liking that all news channels soon rushed to have a piece of the pie.
Aajtak runs a daily afternoon show called Saas Bahu aur Betiyan while its rival ABP runs a show called Saas Bahu aur Saazish. India TV catches up on this segment with its own Saas Bahu aur Suspense. These programs that fall in the category of infotainment too feature prominently on their respective websites.
What is noteworthy about these programs is that they have been successfully running for more than a decade and a half. Some of them have been on air for as long as two decades. In an industry sustaining and barely surviving due to the cut throat competition and falling ad revenue, the longevity of such shows is an indicator of their high demand. It has led to spirituality, astrology and infotainment becoming a permanent feature of the majority of over 400 news and current affairs channels presently being broadcast in India, even when these programmes are anything but news.
A closer look would reveal that these programs were tailor made to advance the cause of Hindutva and Neo Liberalism. If ever there is a more telling example of soft Hindutva infiltrating the secular space it is the propagation of Hindu dogmas and religious practices through various programs on Indian news channels in the name of Spiritualism, Astrology and Mythology. Hindutva that had a tainted past needed a homely makeover. The media houses found in it a ready-made audience. Indian masses forever in quest of spirituality boosted the demand.
On the other hand, neo liberalism had come with endless possibilities for the market. Yet there was a problem, the people had to be made indulgent. For this it was necessary to take the market to the people. Entertainment industry for this purpose was the best carrier. The people’s desires were aroused with extravagant custom-made entertainment programs and by glamorizing the news studio.
Religion and Entertainment have indisputably been the two best sellers in India. No doubt this experiment was going to succeed.
What was once a sober space, news studio, was converted into a film set. The news anchor became the lead actor and spelled death knell for the field journalists. They shrieked and shouted and gave all sorts of modulation to their voices. They gave a swing to their arms, moved back and forth on the set, and gave varied impressions through their eyes. People loved this new avatar of news studio and cheered for the anchors, who by now each channel had at least one. Thus, was born the cult of news anchors, at the cost of journalism.
Like every other industry this was media industry’s business formula guided by consideration for outreach and economy. And just like every other business its success and failure depended on its acceptability by its customers. The basics of demand and supply kicks in here as well. People not just accepted this new offering but asked for more.
The new business formula came up with financial rewards. As the viewership increased Ad firms lined up to sponsor the program. After about a decade since Spiritualism, Astrology and Mythology programs went on air, the stage was set for the Hindutva forces to up the ante. They went shopping for star anchors and through their mouth they voiced their propaganda laced as news. With the kind of reserves the Hindutva forces boast of shopping wasn’t difficult. What resulted was appropriation of news anchors as ideological spokesperson. This was followed by a more overt activism wherein the pretence of soft Hindutva was shed for a more aggressive posturing. Naturally everybody wanted to be the poster boy of this new identity. To secure the top slot, while every star anchor did their best, Arnab Goswami gave his best and a little more.
Ironically the same people who created the cult of star anchor in the first place, who were pleased at the glamorous look, the modulation, the acrobatics and the showbiz, who couldn’t care for journalism are celebrating the arrest of Arnab Goswami. Whatever be the merits of the case in which he has been booked, people deserve not to be left without questioning. Afterall, Arnab is the result of a failed industry whose doom was caused by an illicit relationship between the proprietor and the consumer.
Like its said every nation gets the government it deserves. Arnab is the type of journalist we deserve.