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Ficci Frames 2016: When debates replace news on television

Taking examples of certain recent major events and the way they were handled on news television, experts discuss the pros and cons of debates ruling the news genre

BestMediaInfo Bureau | Mumbai | April 1, 2016

Ficci_Frames_News (L-R) Prahlad Kakkar, Amish Devgan, Govind Ethiraj and Sanjay Jha

The last session of Day 2 at Ficci Frames 2016 delved on a much talked about topic, 'News on Debate Channels', to ascertain whether debates were replacing news content on news channels. Are news channels getting converted to debate channels?

Moderated by Govindraj Ethiraj, veteran journalist and Co -Founder, Ping Digital Broadcast, the panel had participation from Prahlad Kakkar, Founder, Genesis Films; Amish Devgan, primetime anchor and editor output, Zee Business, and Sanjay Jha, National Spokesperson, Congress Party.

Devgan and Jha were at loggerheads with each other as Devgan supported debates on news channels, while Jha opposed it in all possible ways. Kakkar too started off with an opinion which was supportive of the format on the news channels, but later pointed out where the news channels need to be cautious.

Ethiraj posed some serious questions to the panelists as to whether news is being replaced by debates? Were television ratings the only reason for debates? Was there a need to control the amount of debates that happen on television? And, what does the future hold television debates?

Sanjay Jha, National Spokesperson, Indian National Congress Party:

“If we see the news channels at 9 PM on Indian television, it would define why television sets are called idiot boxes. The fact that the dramatised setup is served to Indian audiences in place of some serious information is another pitiful thing. I think it's ugly. Debates are otherwise good, but the way these debates are carried on on news channels is deplorable. The issue is not whether there should be debate, but it is about the sensibility or extent of debating a topic. It was an abuse of the Indian audience when the Sheena Bora murder case was the only thing served to them by all the news channels. It was a time when farmer suicides, riots or anything else was just not considered as important.”

Prahlad Kakkar, Founder, Genesis Films:

“Debates are the healthiest things. It is one and possibly the only way to put the politicians and political parties in front of questions. Then, when a question is dodged of muddied, it is then that the Indian audiences understand the true face. The public is not an idiot, it's the wife who understands why you are skipping a question or lying for that matter. Debates are a part of news, they will not take away news off television. On the other part, the news channels too are at fault at times. The classic case was the Nestle Maggi crisis. All the news channels were either for or against Maggi. However, the consumers were with the brand and were accusing the government for not checking it beforehand. But the news channels never pointed that out. They all went on either attacking or defending Maggi!”

Amish Devgan, Consulting Editor, Zee Business

“We want everything to change in the country, but not news channels. That's not possible. The way news channels were working six years back is way different than what is happening today. We can't be sitting in the Doordarshan days. If there are no debates, the variety of opinions will not get disseminated and the whole purpose of empowering the audience in making an informed decision will be defeated. It is very important that the opinions reach every household. Am I saying that debates have become a prime source of news? Yes. But we must understand that the audience is not taking everything that you give them. They filter before consuming content, even the debates. Plus, the debates ensure appointment viewing which was never happening on news genre.”

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