Devil’s Advocate is a program in one of the English News channels where, as the name typifies the anchor grills the guest and plays the role of a Devil’s advocate. I’m told that the role of the original “Devil’s Advocate” ceased to exist since 1983 when the Pope reformed the process of “Canonization” adopted by the Church. However in our lives we are not so lucky. We live today in a spell of the Devil’s Advocate 24*7 in different avatars in the form of our great news anchors. Hence am tempted to cluster the news channels as “DATV 24*7” (Devil’s Advocate TV)!!!
In last count, India had may be more than 140 news channels in which the Hindi ones are about 35 and the Queen’s language ones are about 20 and the rest are of the regional languages. And my no brainer guess is that certainly India must be the topper in the world in terms of number of news channels! It looks like launching a news channel has far less entry barriers in comparison to starting up a business in India considering the proliferation.
From the time of the ‘Geetanjali Iyers’, ‘Minus’, Sunit Tandons of the Doordarshan days we have indeed come a long way. From fixed dose of 30 mins. news to 24*7 news diarrhea. From ‘news readers’ to more fashionable ‘news anchors’. From pleasing personalities who doubled up as news readers to larger than life personalities. Today the brief for the news anchor is very clear. My guess is that during their job induction the baptism by fire (sorry, the overdose of Biblical references in this post is purely incidental) may well go like this:
- While anchoring a news edition, you are God and you must become the Devil’s advocate when dealing with your guests which by definition means – become someone who, given a certain argument, takes a position he or she does not necessarily agree with, for the sake of argument. In taking such position, the individual taking on the Devil’s advocate role seeks to engage others in an argumentative discussion process ( Courtesy – Wikipedia )
- Never allow the guest to complete what he / she wants to say. Interrupting is your birthright.
- Viewers watch the news edition because of you and not because of the guests. So you HAVE to win every argument with your guests.
- Since while hiring we have checked out that you have been a talented debater in your school/college times, you must bring those skills to the fore here.
- Whatever may be the issue of discussion – if the guest is from BJP – you should ask them about Gujarat and to the guest from Congress – about the fallacies of dynastic politics. ( remember the previous mandate – this will help you win every argument )
- If you are anchoring the English news edition, make sure your Hindi is bad. If your Hindi is as good then you have no place in the English news room. To a Hindi heartland politician guest your question should be like: “Aap ko lagta nahin hai, yeh conjecture hai???” or “Aap kyun maante hain yeh reform public ko beneficial nahi hoga???”
- Being calm, cool and grounded cannot be a layer of your personality. Need to be hysterical most of the time. ( You are dealing with politicians who are masters in creating mass hysteria)
- You are the news anchor. So you don’t have to be consistent in what you say and what you mean. So if India wins the world cup – India is the uncrowned king of ODIs and the question that day should be – “When will India be the No. 1 test ranked team?” After all Test cricket is the real thing. And the day India becomes the No.1 test team the question should be – “In the absence of Test World cup, is the ranking system credible…” In short your questioning must be as they say in Tamil – “Kundaka – Mandaka” ( Sorry I couldn’t get the right English word for this one!)
- And finally, when you interview film stars/ Bollywood tribe as part of their film promotions, you have to be a God’s advocate and be as sheepish as possible.
Like any other field, news business (yes it is) has become a competitive business and is determined by “The Racket Points” (known more popularly as TRPs). And in India with that multitude of channels it is one hell of a competitive business. Hence it is not surprising that news channels have modeled themselves after “Bollywood” which by and large has held its own for decades now and has managed to weather many a technological storms which have come by its way. And as put aptly in one dirty picture – it’s all about Entertainment, Entertainment and Entertainment!!!
- So if one watches a news edition, the 1st few minutes (2 to be precise) are spent on reeling out the main headlines of the day and that’s it. The rest of the hour is spent on debates mostly pointless. And that successful formula of Bollywood is essentially telling a story with drama, weave emotions around it and keeping it as entertaining as possible by throwing in a few song & dance sequences, action sequences,.. Copy that into a news edition today – the anchor brings in the drama with his/her style, the debates conjure up the emotion and hysteria and the film stars in the garb of promoting their movies add to the entertainment quotient if the debates didn’t measure up.
- And anything which casually happens is actually “Breaking News” (For example, recently when the TV channels were ‘breaking the news” of Bal Thackeray’s last procession during the whole Sunday – Raj Thackeray “suddenly deciding to stop walking and getting into his car and speeding away” was “Breaking News”!!! I’m sure the Breaking News tamasha inspires a 1000 “Peepli lives” day in and day out.
- It’s not surprising that when Hillary Clinton is on a visit to India, we could see her “Exclusive” interviews in almost all English news channels!!!
- And in this method of madness there is no exception. If you flip through the English news channels today in a sequence – it will be like watching a motion picture in sequence. Only the anchor will be different. The topic of discussion will be the same. The guests who come to debate will be the same. (You guessed it right – Ravi Shankar Prasad from BJP, Abhishek Singhvi from Congress ,..,..) The style of discussion will be the same and the end result will be predictable.
- The fact that most of the Indian News anchors cut their teeth in one “New Delhi TV” school has not helped.
- Political parties don’t want to debate issues in Parliament because it makes for boring visuals. Debating in TV studios make for better entertainment you see!!!
In their off anchoring times, most anchors admit to donning the tough cop role basically to put the politicians on a mat by asking all the tough questions on issues of the day so that the viewers can then make their own judgement. But they end up being a Devil’s advocate – and that too poor ones at that because in the original instance when a Devil’s Advocate was deployed the verdict was out (“Canonized” or not) but here the temerity of the politicians just continues and the show just goes on!!!