If you haven’t watched this particular episode of the CNN show ‘Crossfire’ I recommend that you do. It was the American version of Left and Right which made the unfortunate mistake of inviting film actor and satirist Jon Stewart as guest. Stewart not only exposed the hacks but accused the hosts of dividing the country with their mindless ‘theatre’ and ridiculed them so badly that the show had to be pulled off the air. That is the unfortunate truth. There is a great difference between good debates and ‘theatre’. And it is always easier to imitate evil than it is to replicate the good. The Indian TV channels and their daily debates are mostly nothing more than absurd theatre. Usually, the panellists on the show are picked not for their independence but for their political persuasions. Kicking and screaming, talking over each other, hurling insults is the kind of theatre that our media dishes out as ‘shows’ rather than sensible debates that can unravel facts. There are panellists like Soli Sorabjee or Harish Salve who hold strong views but express these with decency and respect for others. Not so the usual suspects who are handpicked for the divisive agenda of the media.
The Lokpal bill is obviously the flavour of the week. Far from discussing the contents of the draft bill or its clauses our media crooks were busy helping the govt divert attention by focussing excessively on the quotas and the comedy of Laloo Yadav. It is only Arvind Kejriwal from TeamAnna who talked about specific clauses in a presser. So, on December 22 I asked fellow tweeple who they thought were the worst TV panellists and the response was near unanimous when it came to naming those.
Thanks to the responses of:
@shuchitac @samir21172 @_innovision @atulpandey1991 @aka_shan @bmukh2011 @vijayendradesai @vksdbs7 @kittukrithika @shrutidharp @james_priya
Mark Tully, the renowned British journalist, who is as Indian as you can get stated it best: Primetime debates an excuse for doing cheap TV: “Well, as someone who is sometimes on these panels, frankly I am amazed that there are so many of them. There is a stage army of people really who come on to these panels….And I think this is largely an excuse for doing television on the cheap. I personally believe that we should have other ways of presenting the news, discussing the news than endless panel discussions…”. So here are India’s worst panellists. (They are listed randomly and not in any ranking)
Vinod Sharma – He’s the political editor of Hindustan Times. Yes, the one with that permanent smirk on his face which is eerily similar to the smirk that child molester S.P.Rathore sports. His boss is a Congress MP in Rajya Sabha and his newspaper itself is seen as a Congress mouthpiece. If he is on a panel you need not have a spokesperson from the Congress at all. At best, he will grudgingly concede the gaffes of the govt but will quickly come around to defend them by any and all spurious arguments.
Mani Shankar Aiyar - Foul-mouthed, intemperate and vicious he probably considers it a goal scored if he manages to infuriate viewers. From his comment about Ajay Maken’s command of the English language to the most recent diatribe against Anna Hazare he is the best example of ‘theatre of the absurd’. As substitute for genuine argument he lately asks Anna to go back to Ralegan Siddhi and flog drunkards. And in intended pun he thought it was funny to state that we have heard the “Annas and paises” enough. Personal attacks and insults are his favourite form of healthy debate.
Teesta Setalvad – Think Gujarat and she will crawl out from anywhere and on every channel you can think of with that permanent scowl of hers. She is the favourite of our TV channels when it comes to bashing Narendra Modi and when required also trash the BJP. Not surprising, considering that she was funded by the likes of the Congress and CPM to campaign against them. The SIT that investigated Gujarat riots is on record stating the affidavits she engineered were mostly fake and her own associates have now turned against her. And because she is so tainted it makes her all the more endearing for channels like NDTV and CNN-IBN. The agendas match! Has sought anticipatory bail and none less than the Supreme Court has rapped her on the knuckles for frivolously attempting to internationalise what are matters for Indian courts. Of course, for all her services the Congress govt honoured her with a Padma Shri award.
Renuka Chaudhury – Whosoever coined the phrase “insult to intelligence” must have pictured and heard this woman light years ago. If sheer cacophony were to win awards in a debate she would have a roomful. And, of course, the nation owes it to her for enlightening everyone that Rahul Gandhi isn’t a “parrot”! I still maintain that if the Congress wants to lose a battle or a debate or cut a sorry comic figure Renuka Chaudhury is any day a reliable bet. To her goes the credit of reducing of any debate to bickering and throwing her ‘weight’ around. I doubt if you would want her as a neighbour, one as shrill and senseless as her.
Shoma Choudhury – She sure gets paid for ‘telling the truth’ as her rag called ‘Tehelka’ proudly claims as their tagline. Mind you, she is not your kicking and screaming types but an intelligent smooth-talker who will find great malleability with facts. Recently crossed swords with Subramanian Swamy on a channel discussing his controversial article in DNA for which his courses were cancelled at Harvard. She suggested the article was hate-speech but did not directly confirm if she had read it thoroughly when Swamy asked her. A rare one who can form opinions on people without reading what they have written. Her magazine is another one that resurrected itself after the UPA came to power in 2004. Her greatest moment must have been ‘THINK’, but I wish she would do that before speaking.
Sanjay Nirupam – Last heard he is STILL a member of the Congress. Imagine a thousand empty vessels tumbling down a rocky mountain cliff and the sounds they would make. There, you have Nirupam! Loud-mouth who considers TV debates as election campaigns. What more can one say about him than cite Ashutosh of IBN7 who recently asked him to leave a debate if he could not tolerate the views of others. Maybe he should attend SriSri’s AOL courses or Dr.Phil’s art of being subtle. But knowing Nirupam he is not likely to learn new tricks in a hurry.
Tushar Gandhi – He is not a frequent traveller on TV debates but springs up every time there is a discussion of Mahatma Gandhi. You would not be wrong in thinking he is Gandhi’s gift to God. At other times, he is the sole authority on what is “Gandhian” and what is not. Didn’t think too much when he considered selling out rare images of Gandhi to a corporate entity for commercial campaigns. To his credit, he is soft-spoken, mild mannered and not as belligerent as some of the other panellists that are frequently on display. But the world would be better off if he weren’t dishing out too many sermons in the name of Gandhi. Lately, this nation is getting a bit tired and restless with all the other Gandhis.
Nandita Rao – It is one thing to be kicking and screaming. But it gets worse when you have a bad voice too. The shrill lawyer is a favourite of CNN-IBN when it comes to Anna bashing. How she came to be a panellist on TV shows is a mystery that only CNN-IBN can answer but I’m sure quite a few strings, nay ‘ropes’, must have been pulled to get her there. Thankfully, her appearances have reduced and one hopes it stays that way. It is fair to oppose Anna and team on issues but to take a war-like, belligerent approach to debates is what makes up Nandita Rao. But she provides the kind of theatre that our TV channels desperately seek. Logic or sense be damned!
Manish Tiwari – He is one of my all-time favourite panellists. If he is on a show he is bound to leave you spell-bound with some quote or the other. And he’s a lawyer too. His comment “Corrupt from head to toe” about Anna Hazare was made as a spokesman of the Congress and not as a panellist. Irritating, belligerent he could easily be the saint of lost causes. Since that comment on Anna he was gracious enough to apologise only to goof up again in parliament. Sushma Swaraj, leader of opposition, had to caution him with advice on being a first-time parliamentarian and to learn decency. Will he learn? Time will tell!
There were other names suggested like Suhel Seth, Mahesh Bhatt, Chandan Mitra and more and all of them deserve a place in this post but the list could go on and on and on.
Here is something that is disturbing about these panellists. Umesh Aggarwal, a documentary film maker, who has been exposing the underbelly of the media had this to say: “Every aspect of news be it political, business, sports or entertainment had a price tag. Even panel discussions on an important national issue were ‘fixed”. Guests were invited to give the discussion a particular slant. Selection of guests wasn’t dictated by the editorial policy of the group but there were other considerations”. That says everything about India’s worst panellists.