An interesting debate ensued today when I told a friend that I don’t watch IBN and NDTV. I told him that these channels slant news in favor of Congress and that they are unofficial mouthpieces of the party.

He agreed, but playing devil’s advocate, he wanted to know if I would start watching them if they admit their political affiliation. I said yes, and he said that was irrational. His argument was: since I was anyway convinced that they are pro-Congress outfits, it should not matter to me, as far as my decision not to watch them is concerned, that they denied partisanship. I countered by saying something about the need for full disclosure etc, but the right analogy to respond to him with came to my mind long after the discussion ended.

I live in Bangalore, where it was, or used to be, common for autorickshaws to ply fradulent meters. Ditto in Chennai too — a city I used to travel to occassionally — but there is a difference. In Bangalore, chances are 50-50 that you get into a rickshaw with a foul meter. In Chennai, everybody and grandmother knows that they are 100%. In fact, in many Chennai rickshaws, meters serve just ornamental purpose. So the common practice is to agree on a fare before getting on a ride. Of course, the bargains so struck turn out to be exorbitant, way above the legally mandated fares that no driver gives bare minimum respect to.

Here’s my question: between paying whatever fare a doctored meter dictates to you and paying for an agreed-upon fare, what do you prefer?

I prefer the latter. The reason is that I don’t like to be conned. I don’t ride rickshaws everyday, and having to shell out 30 or 40 rupees more, for either kind of rickshaw, is not a big conern for me. Still I prefer the latter because I don’t like to be taken for a ride, figuratively speaking.

NDTV and IBN are like rickshaws with “fixed” meters. They lie to you with a bald face that their journalism is neutral, that there’s no hankypanky. I remember Doordarshan of Rajiv’s days. Beginning a few weeks before the Election Commission announced polls, and ending with that announcement, the only TV channel in town went on a propaganda drive. Long stories featuring Rajiv Gandhi and his government’s spectacular achievements (no, not Bofors) were a staple feature in primetime news bulletins. Still, I can say with supreme confidence that that propaganda was nowhere as disgusting as what we see on some “private” channels today. And yet these channels are loath to admit to you — the not-so-unsuspecting media consumer — that they are driven by political agendas.

I’d actually be happy to watch a news TV outfit that honestly admits its political affiliation. In such a hypothetical situation, I’d definitely turn to, for example, NDTV, to get to know what Congress’s latest stratagem is and how that party is combatting its rivals. I’d in fact watch it regularly, with keen interest. But as things stand today, to contribute to the TRP ratings of NDTV (or IBN, or TimesNow) is worse than feeling helpless staring at the bogus display on a dubious autorickshaw meter.

(Feature Image Courtesy – Indian Express)

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