News Hunger

“The government must reject Shreedharan’s resignation!”, screamed her Gtalk status message. I was amused and tried to play the devil’s advocate and sent her funny smileys. I imagined how news channels must be raging with ‘breaking news’ of the Delhi Metro chief sending in his resignation after the bridge under construction collapsed, killing six people. What discomforted me was not the fact of the mishap, or that of Shreedharan’s resignation. What discomforted me was that this was another sample of our obsession with news and the culture of 24 hour news channels.

When I was a child, news was something related to the serious things in life. Us kids were not supposed to bother about it. The evening bulletin of Doordarshan was something my father waited for, before heading out for our evening walk. But today, 15 years or so later, as I look at those news anchors with their grim expressions, trying to dress and look as intelligent as possible, I cannot help considering all this a sham. Yes, I too care about 6 people dying at the Metro site. I am deeply concerned about what goes on in Iran under the name of elections and democracy. But for me, these facts are not the most important things in life. I don’t care whether the news of the mishap reaches me 5 minutes after it happens or 5 hours. When news becomes a matter of getting to the spot of the accident as soon as possible, or covering terrorist attacks 24 x 7, it goes beyond the traditional concept of news. It becomes entertainment that is based on gratifying our urge for something new and exciting to know and to comment on with our friends. Then the news anchors might as well exchange their smart suits for beach clothes, because that reflects the seriousness of their work better.

The fact that six people die in an accident, or that terrorists have attacked the city, is a matter of concern not by itself. It is a matter of concern for one who subscribes to a worldview where human life matters. For such a person, when humans kill humans en mass it is time to reflect on what kind of consciousness leads one to such acts, and what we can do to make human beings more capable of fulfilling their potentials, rather than becoming killing machines. Such a worldview – one may call it humanistic, with reservations – is the source of all our concern and our responses to the facts. The worldview is what makes the fact important or unimportant.

But for the culture of 24 x 7 news channels, there is no worldview. The more gratifying the fact is to our hunger for excitement, the more important it becomes. Then all the OB vans of the news channels rush to the place and offer minute-to-minute coverage.  Then the past and the future of the incident are analysed with the help of all sorts of specialists. Whether the terrorists came to Mumbai from Lahore or Karachi becomes more important than why they came to Mumbai instead of going to their schools. And we continue to hunger for the next news story – perhaps what some minister has to say about the whole issue – so that we have a new exciting thing in our lives to know and comment on.

Perhaps this is just a reflection of the commodification that goes on in our times. A soft drink is good not because it has a nice taste but because it fulfills my desire to be handsome like Akshay Kumar, who also drinks that soft drink. I should buy a watch not because I need to see the time but because Aamir Khan wears it. I should get a phone connection not because it offers cheap calls, but I like the image created around it by crores of rupees of advertising.Then why not watch the news – overtly because lives are lost or rights are trampled – but because it is the next thing to grasp at, to escape my otherwise mundane and boring life?

What does this do to us? Few people, hopefully, buy a watch only because Aamir Khan wears it and we are still upset when there is news of people dying.  But perhaps such a culture pushes us outward, towards the exciting and stimulating. If the wise psychologist Carl Jung were around, he would probably call this an over-emphasis on extraversion that in the long run only leads to physical and emotional suffering when there is no introversion to balance it. It deprives us of a worldview, and of setting aside time to be with oneself and reflect. Silence becomes disturbing.

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~ by tdcatss on July 13, 2009.

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