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Updated: January 18, 2014 23:18 IST

Behind and beyond those headlines

Indu Ramesh
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Things change. Oh yes, they do. Remember the time when the only news we got was from the newspapers? I remember my neighbour in Mysore waiting for The Hindu to come from the then Madras. His children had got used to the Bangalore newspapers, but not him. Even though he knew the Bangalore papers published largely the same thing, he would wait till noon for the Madras paper to come, to get a trustworthy account of the latest political speech by Jawaharlal Nehru. There was no ‘Breaking News’, no hysterical anchors, no reports from Ground Zero. I guess we took it for granted that the 9 p.m. news bulletin on All India Radio was gospel truth. Melville De’Mello, Shurajit Sen and Lothika Rathnam were household names.

I am amazed at the speed with which reporters, including young women who don’t look like they can carry video recording equipment, running to be there first, be it about a murder, building collapse or a political leader out to prove that the opposition has colluded with the clouds to bring rains like never before. Everything comes into my living room — the Uttarakhand deluge, the building collapse in Mumbai, the starving population of some sub-Saharan state and so on. Most of us have now become news hawks, comparing one channel with the other, often not the news itself but the anchors and their decibel levels.

While just talking to a friend in the media, I found that most of them are graduates and post-graduates from communication schools which have sprouted all over. They are trained to do interviews, moderate discussions and write three and a half sentences in good, understandable language. Alas, nobody taught them how to formulate their questions, not to shriek at the person they are interviewing, not to jump up and ask questions in a very loud voice, or wait for their turn to ask questions.

Things have changed, and I find I cannot keep up with the frenzy with which news channels bring in ‘Breaking News.’ But then, things have not changed at all. I woke up to this fact while watching the coverage of the Uttarakhand deluge and the more recent floods in Assam. No, things have not changed at all, except for the fact that the pictures are in colour, even in the next day’s newspapers.

Remember the days when it was mandatory for the movie theatres to show the Films Division documentaries and ‘news reels’? Every year, just after the monsoon started, we were shown films of the deluge in the Brahmaputra, the Kosi, the Ganga and so on, with people being shifted from their homes, boats navigating through flooded rivers, all in black and white and with mournful flute music by Pannalal Ghosh in the background. Added to that would be the solemn voice of Zul Vellani.

I said things don’t change. But they do. The language of the reporter, for example. Take cricket. Long ago, when cricket was really a gentlemen’s game, teams met and had five days of play with a rest day in the middle. The commentary on the radio was sober and easy to understand. And the next day’s newspapers carried stories that were not all hype. Watching the coverage of a recent cricket match, I only got words such as ‘havoc’, ‘lashed’, ‘thrashed’ and ‘crushed’. Are the games for entertainment, or is it war, a massive ‘win or else’ operation?

Could go on forever, but there is media conference on TV where, I am happy to say, the wily politician is being dismembered by a group of reporters. This I must watch.

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