WITH EYES WIDE OPEN
D. N. Bezboruah
Television is one of the gifts of science that constantly reminds us that with all such giving, there is also the inevitable taking away. And quite often, the taking away can be more precious than what we have been gifted. There is no denying that television has been a great provider of access to information and that, in combition with the advances to information technology and the computer, television has literally overwhelmed us with benefits. And when something like this happens, it is very easy to lose sight of the losses that such boons inevitably cause. To start with, television, like the computer, can be very addictive. I can see a whole lot of young people who ought to be playing games and attending a lot more to their studies spending far too much time watching television. In fact, many of them have become couch potatoes like their parents were a generation ago. The same thing can be said of people’s addiction to the computer. There are many who spend a lot of time playing computer games. Worse, many young people who ought to have better things to do, spend a lot of time on on-line pornography.
The very fact that I am beginning to spend less and less of my borrowed time sitting before the idiot box is an indicator of my disillusionment with and dislike of what I see on television. Since this might sound like an unfair generalization, it might be a better idea to take up what repels me in the presentation of news on TV and how it has failed even in its role as entertainment provider. There are two things that stand out in the area of news presentation over television. One is the selection of news and the other is the way it is presented. The local TV channels have much to learn about what constitutes news and what does not. There seems to be more and more of persol information about individuals being presented as news. A young couple caught in a compromising position in some remote corner of a park, may provide the material for titillating gossip, but it is not news. Nor does a TV channel have the right to invade the privacy of individuals. In fact, in these days of paid news, the presentation of such items as news may lay the TV channel open to suspicion of failed blackmail attempts. Viewers may legitimately suspect that the video clip was shown to the couple and some money demanded for not telecasting it. On failing to get the desired response, the clip was used as a means of securing cheap revenge. We are beginning to get far too much of persol news about people who are not in the news. Such presentation of news brings down the credibility and the stature of the TV channel in question. Such unfortute selection of news often results in more important news getting left out. And what invariably gets left out is what ought to constitute campaigns against acts of government injustice against the people and the numerous anti-people initiatives resulting from attempts to appease the vote-bank of illegal migrants from other countries. Our local television channels would do well to distinguish carefully what constitutes news from what are persol matters and do not constitute news. And that brings me to the manner of presentation of television news. Flashing four mug shots of the same person in a row and repeating the process diagolly or vertically and repeating such gimmicks again and again are not only in questioble taste but are puerile presentations that irritate the viewer. If a document is presented as supportive evidence to any news, viewers ought to be able to read the relevant portions of the document. Instead of presenting something rushed through four times, it makes better sense to present the clip once but long enough for people to be able to read what is shown. Likewise, the practice of putting a circle around a person’s face and adding an arrow to it for good measure is quite unnecessary and certainly in poor taste. Such childish gimmicks have no place in good television presentation. It is quite often a clear indication that the TV channel is running out of smart ideas and feels obliged to resort to gimmicks. And why should the same news clip be repeated so many times within a span of 10 or 15 minutes? When it comes to presentation of music or drama (including serials) our local channels have a long way to go in singing as well as acting. It is time they pulled up their socks.
What about the tiol channels and the intertiol ones? The tiol news channels are somewhat better because they are not so strongly obsessed with the kind of gimmicks that the local channels use. Even so, they too use avoidable gimmicks. And what our local channels are copying from the tiol news channels is the tendency to have debates and discussions on every major news item. TV viewers are not as keen on debates over news items as our TV channels imagine or on the “editor’s view” over every imagible issue. They would rather have an objective and accurate presentation of the news with all the advantage that television enjoys over the print media.
As far as entertainment is concerned, the tiol television channels have done considerable harm by presenting a very artificial life-style as something normal for our country. This has resulted in the unleashing of bizarre aspirations that have no place in real-life situations. But that apart, the tiol and intertiol entertainment channels and particularly some of the advertisements aired on television have done three distinct acts of disservice to the impressioble individuals. They have attracted people to violence, made people more destructive and wasteful and made them rather self-centred. Rarely does one find an English movie that does not abound in violence and destruction. Take, for instance, the destruction that is structured quite needlessly by letting imagition go wild in the Transformation series of films where motor vehicles suddenly transform themselves into robot-like mechanical forms that have very destructive powers of volition that are never to anyone’s god. Or think of Spiderman 2 where the extent of senseless violence and crime (like the looting of a bank) can hardly be justified on any grounds. Even a film like Thor has almost a lethal dose of destruction quite uncalled for, given the story-line of the film. There are days when it is difficult to find an English film without violence and mindless destruction. And much of this has spilled over to the advertisements. One facet of TV advertisements relating to vehicles like motorcycles is reckless and hazardous driving accompanied by that meaningless bit of warning that the stunts are performed by professiols, and should not be attempted by novices. I am convinced that such warnings are not going to prevent novices from replicating the reckless adventurism they are not trained for. I am also convinced that a fair share of our abnormally large number of highway accidents is due to the depiction of reckless driving in TV advertisements. There is also an advertisement connected to a litchi soft drink advertisement where an adolescent kicks a hydrant and breaks it making the water gush out. Such advertisements stoke lawless and crimil behaviour and would not be countenced in any civilized country. In India, anything goes as an advertisement—especially on television. There seems to be complete lack of even monitoring of advertisements not to speak of the kind of censorship that exists for films released for public viewing. If we go on like this, we might well end up stoking reckless and defiant behaviour among the youth. As it is, much of the defiance and lawlessness as well as stoking of irratiol aspirations is attributed to television. It is, therefore, imperative that television channels begin to accept greater responsibility in refraining from production norms that could stoke objectioble or lawless conduct among adolescents and youths.