Aaj Tak... (ek zamaane mein) sabse tez!

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 10:32 PM in ,

“Not all that glitters is gold”--- goes the old adage. After the phenomenal success that Aaj Tak met with at its launch sometime around the 31st of December 1999, who would have thought it would end up as a bundle of bunkum some eight years later?

In the age of the Doordarshan, the TV Today Network timed the launch of the channel very strategically. The concept of cable television was new and bored with the monotonously dry bulletins on DD, a more organized news channel equipped with competitive journalists, wide coverage, superior world class technology and resources was more than welcome. Never an ardent news-watcher myself, I would sit down for hours with Aaj Tak and admire the structured approach that was still very new in those days (though the actual credit for those hours goes to dad who refused to watch anything else over the dining table during our meals). Hence, every time the channel won the ‘Best News Channel’ award by the Indian Television Academy, it didn’t come as a surprise to me (they won the award for six consecutive years). In fact I would only join in the chorus.

Now when I look back, it seems the hoopla was just because it was one of the few privately owned news channels in the country. Additionally, it was also because we had no other channels to compare its performance with (DD was hardly any competition, rest were way behind in the rat race). TRPs were not an issue, infact they enjoyed a near monopoly situation for quite some time, and hence there were on constraints on the content that they churned out. Relevant stories were fed to the viewers and the public was finding a new voice to say all that they’d wanted to say for so long. But then in some time, things started going wrong.

Inspired by the success that Aaj Tak had been bestowed with, other channels started cropping up. First Hindi, and then English, the number of players in the field is mounting even till present day. Fast losing out on viewership, Aaj Tak tried every trick in the book to stay at the top, but eventually succumbed to competition and decided to revise its contents-policy to give the viewers what they wanted to see. A clear divide emerged between the Hindi and English news watching population, and Aaj Tak was left with a measly group that demanded ghost stories, irrelevant over-analysis, an intrusion into the private lives of others and a lot of excitement through ‘breaking news’ stories (India TV had a major role in pushing Aaj Tak to the corner too). Surveys say the viewership today is about 45 million viewers tuned in everyday. Although executives like Sanjay Pugalia looked for the exit.

While the advent of Aaj Tak must have ushered in an era of a liberal journalism, it also ushered in an era where channels ran in all directions to garner viewership. As the market dynamics came into action, the pioneer itself fell prey to the dirty game of higher TRPs. In a zest to beat competition, Aaj Tak revised its core competence to ‘infotainment’. Not a bad concept per se, purists argued that the focus has shifted from hard news to human drama stories and celebrity patriotism.

A few recent examples should be fresh in our minds. Lets start with the most outrageous one, the Aarushi Talwar murder case. From presenting live dramatizations to snooping into her house to fish out her private diary and home-recorded videos… no stone was left unturned in slicing open a slain young girl’s life and splashing the most personal moments of it on national television. What’ s more, ‘exclusive’ content was the name of the game and even her parents were not excluded from the ambit of the blame game. The channel happily came up with conspiracy theories going by the few evidences collected from the site of action. In fact the public opinion was made to skew to such an extent that only a court ruling declaring the father to be innocent could later reverse it. If someone had switched on the television in those days, Aaj Tak was full of “breaking news” from all direction, highlighting even the tiniest of findings that their pesky reporters had managed to unearth. The menagerie of the bold sentences on the screen was an eye sore and the sheer ignorance towards other stories of national interest was a shame. And all of this only boiled down to Aaj Tak issuing an apology in lieu of irresponsible journalism in this case.

Another instance was the Large Hadron Collider experiment. Happening some 100 meters under the Franco Swiss border, Aaj Tak was the front runner in making a big deal about the whole ‘world-coming-to-an-end’ theory, even after repeated reassurances from scientists that such fears were misplaced. Consequently, such rumors led to a poor young girl committing suicide somewhere in the country fearing such a dreadful end to the world. The stories, that spanned over full-length days, were outrageous and repulsive.

The Jaya-Thackeray feud is another instance when Aaj Tak crossed the lines of responsible journalism. Over exposure to the case coupled with airing its own assumptions and presumptions as being that of the Bachchans, ended up with not one story being reliable or useful.

The regular ‘documentaries’ on finding ‘Ravan’s mummy’ and on village witches, or the deep scrutiny of Sonia Gandhi’s kundli a day before the trust vote on the nuclear deal in the parliament to gauze the chances of her government sailing through… it seems Aaj Tak is solely responsible for the slow erosion of the credibility that was once attached to its name.
The channel was conceptualized by Surendra Pratap Singh and is currently headed by a stalwart called Aroon Purie acting as its CMD (a student of Doon School, a B.Sc in Economics from LSE and a chartered accountant). It is owned by the TV Today group which in turn is owned by the India Today group which prints some quality material in India like the Harvard Business Review (India edition), Mail Today (a newspaper in joint venture with the Daily Mail) and Cosmopolitan magazine. Aaj Tak also runs other news channels like Headlines Today, Tez and Aaj Tak Dilli. A business channel in collaboration with Bloomberg is also on the cards. With such strong credentials, it seems the channel is ruining itself by airing what it is airing these days. A quick revision of the stories, a re-analysis of the allocation of its air-time to pieces based on their relative importance to the people and a revamp of its breaking-news strategy should do the channel some good. This way, it might just be able to win back the English-speaking viewers and wouldn’t have to resort to quality-less stuff to attract the masses. Turn on the television to see what Aaj Tak is showing right now… and give my article some thought.


Over to the rains…

Posted by Yashika Totlani Khanna on 9:32 AM in ,
2355 hrs

Upon somebody’s indirect mention today that my neglect for the blog has spilt over several months now, I feel compelled to come up here and infuse some activity into my dormant space. Time has been a slight issue ever since work started and the biggest sufferer, I now realize, has been the writer in me. So here is an attempt at a quick redress… a warm up of sorts.
After the few initial weeks of discomfort (severe, grievous, spartan), I’ve finally come in terms with this novel life in the fast lane. The clock is attuned to this new ticking and I’m beginning to appreciate the simple pleasures of life again, maybe even more than ever before. The city was thronged with receding monsoon showers today and I managed some time in the evening to come out in the open and have my share of pitter-patter gazing and wind stealing. For all those still interested… it proved soothing and cathartic. A welcome usurpation of nature after dry days spent almost locked up in a cubicle staring at my computer screen… either finishing assignments or browsing Bloomberg dissecting the Lehman bankruptcy. At a time when bad news pours in from all directions (the Thackeray’s new ploy to gain political mileage by pulling off absurd role-plays, to a super bearish Wall Street, to violence against Christians in several states by the notorious VHP, to a fragile Pakistan getting diffident by the day under unstable leadership, to bomb blasts in saddi dilli, to a mud-sling fest in the US elections)… the showers should at least give the journalists something nice to write about in tomorrow’s newspapers.

I’m deviating. Coming back to the rains… there’s something peculiar about them that make them so popular. Traffic snarls and waterlogging aside… the rains mean many more things to a shower-starved Delhi. It could be their uncanny ability to transport the free minds to more joyous terrains, or exposing the jovial ones to newer pinnacles of liberation… they’re symbolic of free spirit and romanticism. At a stage when life teaches new things at every step… today I managed to discover repose in the midst of a traffic-clogged street. Soothing music, a special presence, pitter-patter noises against the steel of a car and my raindrops-blurred vision to the world outside. The rains surely mean more things to a shower-starved city… maybe the romanticist in me has got something to do with it…

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