Saturday, December 1, 2007

News Channels I like

I am not an avid reader, I do not bury my head in books for hours and hours like some people I know. Except Harry Potter, Busybee and some on financial topics, I do not read books. But I read lots of newspapers, magazines and watch a lot of news on TV.

I watch only English new channels. Mainly because there is only one Hindi news channel on Indian television, NDTV India. Other Hindi channels that call themselves news channels, are not news channels to me; they are variety entertainment channels during the day and adult entertainment channels after 9 pm. Nothing wrong about it, but I think it would do us all good if they stop calling themselves news channels instead of what they truly are. Especially Rajat Sharma, who time and again, asserts on India TV that this is what the public wants to see and so they're showing it. But this piece is not about what I do not like. It is about the channels I like and watch.

My favourite channel is CNN-IBN. Starting from its editor, Rajdeep Sardesai, who may times presents the 9.00 news, raring to go and concerned with all the news there is to be presented, head nodding, his right hand carefully placed over his left hand and eager to present even the minutest of news in a way as if it will shake up the entire nation. But then, that's his passion. He was earlier with NDTV with Prannoy Roy, but later drifted apart and started his own news channel. Son of a cricketer and retired sociology professor St. Xavier's college, Sardesai is one of my favourite anchors. He started 'The Big Fight' on NDTV and took it to dizzying heights when it was almost compulsory to watch it.

Three panelists would fight it out with the audience watching and Sardesai closely monitoring them, grilling, and many times fingering, them. But he would ask the most important questions and compel the panelists to come clean on a variety of issues. He was and still is the master of debates. He asks pertinent questions to the speakers, antagonises them, allows them to clarify without hijacking the debate and then goes shoots at the next person surprisingly without sounding rude. I do not like the current host Vikram Chandra. He is a better newsreader than a moderator. I feel he is too soft and does not 'attack' the panelists. As a fellow journalist, I feel we should always analyse issues and people, critically, not to be rude or insulting to them, but be ready and open to ask them tough questions. Because the reader / viewer needs answers. And answers, they must get. I do not watch 'The Big Fight' anymore.

Overall, CNN-IBN is a good news channel. Their coverage is good, their news-reporters are better than the rest and they are crisp and clear. More so, I like the fact that their 9 pm news stretches for an hour, despite a short sports and entertainment capsule thrown in. One good quality is also the consistent quality of all newsreaders.

If not CNN-IBN, I watch NDTV 24/7. Their coverage is good, newsreaders vary from good to average. Besides, they have strongly taken up causes as and when they and citizens have felt that injustice had been meted out, like the three murder cases of Jessica Lal, Priyadarshani Mattoo and Nitish Katara and also reservations in educational institutions for OBCs and the subsequent brutal crack-down on peaceful protests by innocent students. Through their persistent coverage, they put pressure on the authorities, got these cases re-opened and saw through the conviction of two of three murder cases. This is what the news channel should stand up for. These are rare and extremely potent powers that if mis-used could have disastrous consequences in a democracy, but if used well, like NDTV did, could make a big difference.

However, they have lost some charm ever since CNN-IBN came. NDTV's newsreaders I find them too soft. Sometimes they are so soft, I have to increase my TV volume. Except Barkha Dutt ("I'm calling from a bunker"). Prannoy Roy, head NDTV, is the best of the lot. Though I now feel Sardesai has overtaken him. But Roy is clearly one of the best English newsreaders Indian TV has ever seen. He reads out news to you as if he's talking to you. It's more of story-telling than news reading. When he reads news, you feel like he wants to tell you news and not someone who is just doing his job for a salary. His legendary 'The World This Week', every Friday night at 10 on DD was a must-must on our schedule. News and events from around the world were told in free-wheeling one hour that negated the need to have several world news channels of today. Though now I feel Roy has taken his style a bit far and isn't as magical as he used to be. Two programs on NDTV 24/7 that I still like are 'We The People' by Barkha Dutt and some car & bike show that I feel is still the best of the lot on TV.

I do not much watch Times Now, though I used to watch it when it started. And it showed a lot of promise at that time. Unfortunately, they couldn't hold my interest. Their editor Arnab Goswami is over-excited about everything. Times Now is loud and sounds unnecessarily excited about every little news item. Goswami tried to be tough in his weekly interview program called 'Frankly Speaking' like Tim Sebastian of BBC Hardtalk, but couldn't succeed. This is my personal opinion. Though he amused me initially when he used to grill several interviewees. "Look into my eye and tell me you didn't want to become a home minister", he once asked Mani Shankar Aiyar. Besides, Times Now is very inclined to sport, especially cricket. Their sports coverage is skewed towards cricket; this I don't like.

I do not watch foreign channels like CNN and BBC. All they report or like to report is of terrorism activities in third world countries like Kosovo, Iraq, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the works. There are hardly any positive developments they report. You would fall into depression and loose faith in mankind if you watch these channels for days and days. You don't watch them for news anymore, you watch them only to know the world's weather. Perhaps a bit of sports on CNN and occasionally Hardtalk on BBC.

I do not much watch business channels, because I deal with the kind of news daily at work, so I can't digest it anymore once I get home. But between NDTV Profit and CNBC, i prefer the latter. Like their general news channel. NDTV Profit is soft and dull.

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