Prime-time War(t)s

by Shyam Prasad


Watching the 24×7 English TV news channels in India can be dull and monotonous but not so with the prime time debates/ discussions on these channels. Watching them is always an interesting and unique experience.

I will attempt to list some of the reasons why, I think, the TV debates and discussions are different.

1) The anchors (moderators) are the X-factor. They are loud and overbearing. They are jingoistic and sermonizing. Every anchor combines the roles of the Inquisitor, Prosecutor and all-powerful Judge. Each one of them is a spirited follower of the Sam Goldwyn dictum “Don’t talk while I am interrupting”.

2) A couple of topics are debated every night during prime time. The tone and language used for the introduction of the topic will tell you, in no uncertain terms, that the matter is so grave and critical that the nation needs to deliberate (openly on TV and on their channel) without any delay. Examples of serious issues that call for immediate discussion could be “Does Dhoni want Tendulkar out of Test cricket because he stated in an interview today that young legs improve Indian fielding?” “Is the Congress-NCP alliance headed for a split? Your channel’s investigations reveal that Pawar was made to sit three places away from the PM in yesterday’s cabinet meeting?”

3) Typically, time allocated for a specific debate could be 15 minutes and the number of guests participating in the discussion will be six or more. With the anchor and the commercials cornering more than 50% of the available time, each participant gets a maximum of 1 to 1½ minutes of overall time (maximum of 15 seconds without an interruption) to air his/her expert views on the topic. As a rule, the participants in the debate will be rude, obnoxious, scowling at the person(s) articulating an alternative/opposing opinion. No self-respecting participant will allow the debate to end unless there is some animated squabbling. In the unlikely event that the guests are too polite and respectful to one another and there is no major argument, a self-respecting anchor will feel disappointed − he knows that he under-performed in the race for TRPs!

4) We, Indians, have not won too many Nobel prizes for our accomplishments and inventions in science. But there is one marvel that occurs on our news channels repeatedly that seems to have missed the attention of the Nobel Prize jury. I refer to the ability of TV debate participants in India to appear in different “live” discussions simultaneously on more than one TV channel. This defies the laws of physics since a particular person can be at only one specific place at any given time. Multiple live appearances on TV used to occur rampantly in the recent past. While their number has reduced currently, this amazing spectacle continues to happen still.

5) We love inviting guests from a neighbouring country to participate in our TV debates. We hurl harsh and sombre accusations against them all the time. They deny every charge and, in turn, accuse us of other more serious transgressions and breaches. We refute each one of them. Basically, the two sides will agree on nothing. We will be mean to each another throughout the show and unashamedly attribute mala fide intentions to the other. The participants want the ‘debate’ to stop as soon as possible and so do the viewers. But come another day, another so-called debate is scheduled! Why, oh why? I guess the TV channels are rendering a social service. They inflict this torture on us every day so that we learn to live through pain and emerge stronger!

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