Breaking news and item numbers -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Breaking news and item numbers

Pakistan Press Foundation

Aasim Zafar Khan

They say that if you set off on the wrong path and keep going on it, sooner or later, you’ll end up somewhere wrong. But if you don’t know that the path you’re travelling on is ‘wrong’, then where you’ll end up will be ‘right’ – at least to you. That’s precisely where a very large majority of our television news channels are: at the wrong place, having reached here by being on the wrong path, but feeling that it’s right.

A prime question is what constitutes ‘breaking news’. Is it a bomb blast which kills 50 people; is it an update on the happenings at the Supreme Court; is it the marriage or divorce of a celebrity; or as was the case recently, the president going for a dinner with his daughter to a public restaurant?

Is it possible that all of the above, are breaking news items, and need to be reported immediately in a larger than life and in your face manner, as if viewers urgently need to know and will be much worse off if they aren’t informed?

For those who haven’t witnessed a frivolous breaking news scenario in all its glory, here’s how it goes:

That ticker line at the bottom of the screen goes blood-red, and a revealing header comes in, usually reading: Dhamaka (bomb blast) or the like. Then the onscreen anchor, who has probably been fed a line or two of what’s coming up, says that we have a breaking news folks, and is immediately replaced by a weird psychedelic animation which takes over the whole screen with a whoosh.

Usually this full screen animation has a header and one line of information written. The anchor is made to repeatedly ‘repeat’ this one line of information in an excited and urgent manner, while behind the screen, a producer tries desperately to get a reporter on line for more information.

All this while that psychedelic blood-red animation keeps going on and on, interspaced with that rocket ship like whoosh sound. And finally, the reporter comes online. The screen doesn’t cut back to the newsroom and the anchor and reporter have a conversation atop the animation. This ought to be a short conversation because the reporter hasn’t been given enough time to gather more information, but the anchors are unrelenting. Tell us more, tell us more!

Occasionally, the reporter does have information at hand, and as the story unfolds, live on prime time television, everyone realises that this really isn’t that big a story, and once they’re done with it, it’s over.

How on earth did we get here? Like I wrote earlier, it’s about being on the wrong path, and not realising it. A vast majority of channels in Pakistan are operating on an Indian model. Many have been trained by our neighbours as well. And their sensational reporting style has been completely and fully embraced here as well.

Let’s look west for a bit. When was the last time you saw a breaking news scenario on, say, CNN or the BBC? Can’t remember?

Well, that’s good, because ‘breaking news’ doesn’t happen every day. They choose these scenarios wisely, and when they do it, it’s plain to see why. And even when they do, it’s not an attack on your aural and visual senses, like here. The anchors don’t get overexcited and start screaming. Peace and tranquillity is maintained at all costs. Here at home, it’s the complete opposite.

And before the anchors gang up on me, let me say that they aren’t to blame. They’re simply foot soldiers, obeying orders.

Another import from across the border is music: cheap songs blaring over stories and packages. One senior executive at a news channel recently posted this on a social media platform ‘…If you close your eyes and just listen to one of the news channels, you would think that you’re watching some Bollywood music channel, each story/package based on a chatpata song from a latest Bollywood movie, even (with)…a clip of some Bollywood song…’

I would have to agree. News is serious business, and it needs to be delivered with sobriety. All these Bollywood numbers atop stories don’t add value; they just turn it into a bit of a farce. If that’s intentional, it’s evidence of the media’s regression, rather than progress. And if it’s unintentional, then well, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

But this time, save the masala for the Chicken Karahi and the Bollywood numbers for the dance floor.

Source: The News

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