Pot Kettle Black

Anumeha Verma
Published: April 2016


The latest trend on television debates seems not what makes sense but who can shout the loudest

I was in the balcony when a cacophony of sounds erupted from the living room. At one point in time the heated debate which was blaring from the television set would have pulled me away from my evening contemplations but this time I stayed put. Why? Well, the regularity with which such episodes play on television news channels is astonishingly predictable.

One would think that something really earth shattering would have happened to merit a number of intellectuals, political leaders and sports enthusiasts provide their vocal cords such a strenuous exercise. However, I later came to know that it was a debate on why India lost the World Cup. Not even a novel topic. Apart from two tournaments, lady luck has largely never favoured India. This is not to say that it had only to do with lack of or presence of good fortunes. Coming back to the point, it seems that in the current times, it does not need much to provoke the intelligentsia and leaders of our society. Merely being on camera and debating a point is case enough to start hurling verbal abuses and giving the lungs exercises that only a new born babe needs.

pot-qAnd, not just cricket, this phenomenon has become applicable to every other topic that our news channels deem worthy of becoming a ‘national issue’. The standard template for the debate is that a moderator would do the opening honours and then throw a question. Responses ensue from those for the issue and those against it. Nothing wrong there except the fact that those for and against the issue instead of taking turns to speak, harbour the desire to speak simultaneously. What ensues is nothing less than chaos and if the viewer actually gets to hear a single completed sentence, he thanks his stars. As if the sound bites were not enough, the debaters indulge in ample gesturing to get across their points. Once, the viewer is actually able to discern what is being said and assimilate it, what hits him is that no valid point has been made. It was all about people on one side of the fence enumerating the faults of the other side with a flagrant disregard for the topic of discussion. A closer examination of these verbal exchanges reveal that it is ridiculously easy to get away for those who are defending their case, without ever resorting to give an explanation to anything that is being asked of them. All they have to do is to pick a point of the other parties involved or those of the moderators and stick to it. If someone is facing a corruption charge, they happily point fingers at the other person and say ‘you are also corrupt’. So? Do two wrongs make one right? The logic seems largely skewed.

There was a point in time, when people proudly used to tell each other that they watched a debate of national import or international significance the other evening. The newsrooms used to be sedate and calm places, where issues of strategic and public significance were dissected minutely by leaders, analysts and thinkers. The case in point was whetted and informed interactions pressed on public minds the importance of an ongoing issue, be it economic, political or cultural. One came out understanding the entire situation better, a crucial step towards solving a problem.

Contrary to this, today one wonders at the entire purpose of a television debate. Is the viewer left any better informed or any wiser from the onslaught on ear drums? For me, it has been a strangely defeating exercise to watch debates of late. I agree it provides me with an entertainment value and also a few laughs. But the mirth unfortunately is not provided by some clever repartee between the debaters but from the sheer futility of the points being put forth. Even the moderators themselves appear to be predisposed towards a certain take on the issue, clearly attempting to steer the debate in that direction. Instead of raising issues of significance and bringing it into the public sphere for further assessments, they seem to have turned into prosecutors and executors trying court cases, albeit in an ultra-glamorised avatar. If the debates create spectacles, then the rivalry between the channels themselves has all the makings of a soap opera. One channel calls itself aggressive, which spares none, another one calls itself ‘serious’, whatever that means.

In between all this it is the viewer who watches the drama unfolding and hoping that something would appeal to his intellect and help him fathom the situation better. But, unfortunately no one seems to be actually bothered about it. Similar faces appear on debates across television channels and across topics. If our debates are some benchmark to go by, then all people today are universal geniuses. The same people are perceived to be capable of commenting on politics, issues related to women, human rights, malnutrition, poverty, strategy, inflation, GDP, you name it and they have it. The concept that debates require specialists who have thorough knowledge of a particular topic has become history. Anyone can speak on anything.

May be a time would come when there would be improvements. The Indian media is still growing and can be considered to be in its nascent stages. Meanwhile, we would have to make do with sounds sans moderation and analysis without reasoning.

 - Anumeha Verma is at present working with Jain University and believes that strategic communication plays a major role in solving development issues.