It’s not surprising or unusual that, with a couple of exceptions, most of NDTV’s female anchors are fair and lovely. True for other channels too. And they get fairer in the studio than while reporting from the ground. So some years back NDTV had this great debate on “We The Poodles” on whether Indians preferred fair skin. Reason for the debate? Excessive marketing of fairness creams in the market. They had all the beauties and advertising gurus on the show sparring over the issue. Every aspect of skin-colour preference was heatedly argued. All except one – Do fairness creams really work? Now, if the debate had conclusively established that these creams don’t work then it would have been a big blow to the fairness industry. That would have also meant a big blow to ad revenues for the channel. But TV debates aren’t meant to establish anything but deliver the good drama and theatre they are supposed to. So the tone of the debate was more on the ‘racist’ bias of Indians toward fair-skin rather than spurious creams.
P. Sainath, award-winning journalist, once remarked in an article that the Times of India had long become a vehicle for marketing as against a journal. There have been long periods when TOI has even gone without a proper editor. The simple reason is that TOI is clear who its readers are. Recent combative ads by The Hindu pretty much describe TOI as a paper for the page-3 watchers. People who don’t seek to be educated but who are sure to know the nick-name of Hrithik Roshan (Duggu). I often joke that the most ardent watchers and fans of NDTV have to be those who have a mini-bar at home. Frankly, there is nothing wrong if NDTV has clearly identified its segment and caters to their tastes. Trouble only starts when they also extend their preference on important topics to find users to suit their tastes.
Every year around January NDTV unfailingly releases an ad for its broadcast training school. The ad headline reads ‘Train with the best’. The pics in the ad will tell you who they think are the best in the business. The best of the best. So one aspiring journalist fell for it and decided to intern with them. I don’t and cannot know what Khadija Ejaz learned at NDTV but I am sure as hell that she learned a few lessons that she won’t forget easily. The most important lesson would be not to indulge in journalism of the NDTV type. That is enough said by me. Let us stroll through Khadija’s experience with NDTV. She narrates it in an article titled ‘Voice of the People’ - When the opinion of the unattractive sweaty Indian is less important than that of his better looking, English speaking, compatriot. Excerpts below:
Diesel prices had gone up, and the input desk at NDTV in New Delhi had dispatched me to get reactions from customers at a gas station. Vox pop, they call it in the business, the voice of the people. I was interning in reporting that very hot month of June, so off I went…. Except that it was Saturday morning. Except this was diesel. Only a handful of people passed through the gas station for diesel that whole couple of hours, but I did speak to them and uplink their reactions back to the newsroom…. but I received a call from the edit bay telling me that the reactions I had got were not good enough and that I’d have to get more. I can’t remember exactly what I was told was lacking in the footage, but I remember the gist of it: the people didn’t look good/educated enough for TV. They spoke Hindi too. There’s a word for that in India: ghhaati. Low class.
Haha! I have reason to believe Khadija must have spent some time in Mumbai or in Maharashtra. ‘Ghaati’ is not common to the whole of India. Ghaati, for low-class, that she refers to is usually a term used in Maharashtra for the labourers from the region of Western Ghats and therefore the name. Sorry for interrupting, let’s read on:
But it was a story about diesel. The only people who bought diesel at gas stations were truck drivers, autorickshaw drivers…and other people’s drivers in general. Weren’t these the people whose reactions you’d want in a story about diesel? They were the ones who’d be affected by the price rise, right? I didn’t understand the issue with the Hindi either. Sure, we were an English channel, but we subtitled non-English footage all the time. It was not a big deal, so what was so different this time? I’d tried explaining that to the person who’d called me from the newsroom, but I was very silkily asked to just get some English bites from better-looking people who weren’t uneducated drivers…I got it. They wanted freshly-scrubbed white-collar reactions for the white-collar-catering Inglis channel. Didn’t matter if white-collar India didn’t care about diesel prices.
… I felt a little ridiculous. My intelligence and integrity felt vaguely insulted, but I still went. I put my Hindi aside and put on my best American accent because I was representing an English news channel to the English-speaking persons of India…. Only the previous month, when I was interning in the edit bay, had I been asked to edit vox pop footage that had come in from Kashmir about another price rise. I’d put the bites together, all of them in Hindi, and was then told by a young employee that they couldn’t put that footage on air. But why, I had asked, the bites had good content. The girl had laughed. “Have you seen their faces?” she had said, screwing up her pretty light-skinned nose at me, the poor newbie. “We can’t put such visuals on air.”
Such people? Dark-skinned people from lower-income families? But what about the content? That footage never made it on the air on our English channel, but our Hindi channel ran it all day long. So the English channel only showed the good-looking people of India? But what about content? What about what we had initially been told at NDTV about journalistic ethics and the real issues and how journalism was supposed to be a pillar of democracy, the voice of the people? Or was it the voice of certain sections of the people depending on the segment of India you were catering to? The unattractive sweaty Indian is also a part of India. In fact, he is about 90% of India.
Journalistic ethics! Pillar of democracy! Voice of the people! I broke out in laughter. If only Khadija Ejaz had met me before interning at NDTV I would have explained to her what to expect. I would have asked her to first check out the areas and houses where all the ‘best’ journos lived. She wouldn’t find sweaty Indians there. She would have then been trained on which people to interview. She confuses ‘trucks’ for real trucks. In our TV channel lexicon ‘truck’ means those swank SUVs driven by people who don’t sweat or stink. Khadija should have spoken to me before-hand. I would have educated her on what Barkha Dutt, and even Sagarika Ghose, really think of middle class and lower class Indians. She should have read many of their articles. At the very least I would have shown her Sagarika’s tweet about “Ugly Indian males”.
Never mind! Khadija has the benefit of learning the ropes the hard way. That if and when you apply for work at NDTV or any Indian TV channel make sure you use an abundant dose of Fair & Lovely. Make sure you invest in the best of deodorants or perfumes. Nothing wins like a ‘sweet smelling’ journalist. Come January NDTV will have another of their training school ads out. I recommend they make a small correction though. Instead of ‘Best’ I think “Train with the Beast” would be far more appropriate.