Have you wondered how much more difficult it has become to tell the difference between entertainment and news channels on television? After all, the television channel business, worth Rs18,000 crore in advertisement and subscription fees, is dominated by the entertainment genre. And print, with Rs14,800 crore in revenue, is still largely about news.
This is despite the fact that there are more news channels than those of any other genre. Earlier this year, in response to a question in Parliament, the minister for information and broadcasting announced that there are 201 news and current affairs TV channels and 180 non-news and current affairs TV channels uplinked from India. Also waiting in the pipeline are applications of 97 private satellite news and current affairs TV channels and 85 private satellite non-news and current affairs TV channels. Then there are 67 private satellite TV channels uplinked from abroad—14 are news and current affairs TV channels and 53 are non-news and current affairs TV channels.
I find particularly funny the way we classify channels as “news and current affairs” and “non-news and current affairs”. For the sake of definition as given in the policy documents: “News & Current Affairs channel means a channel which has any element of news and current affairs in its programme content.” This definition has served as the point of entry of news channels into the entertainment genre.
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News and current affairs channels need special clearance by the ministry. They have to be accredited to the Press Information Bureau, cannot have foreign equity exceeding 26%, and can only have Indians in important decision-making positions. News has been always been a highly sensitive genre as far as the government is concerned and there is currently some amount of debate on the contentious issue of news in community radio. However, in the case of television, the genre of news has taken a different meaning altogether. The compulsion to adapt to this medium has made this genre’s boundaries very vague—and often, they overlap with those of the entertainment genre.
The entertainment served on news channels can be divided into two types: First, news presented in a more entertaining way and, second, an emphasis on entertainment news. Presentation and delivery of news is becoming more dramatic, friendly and entertaining—a compulsion of this visual medium. However, what is even more interesting now is the rising interest in, and visibility of, news on entertainment.
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News channels now have more news about entertainment. The graph of prime time television news on major national channels shows how the proportion of news on entertainment has gone up from 6% to almost 16 % in the last four years. An analysis of nine Telugu news channels from CMS Media Lab at Hyderabad also showed that almost 9% of the news time was devoted for entertainment news.
We already have health and cookery shows on news channels that technically do not fall under the entertainment genre. But now, we also have special programmes on various channels on entertainment available on other channels—so we have special shows to catch up on the daily television soaps such as Saas, Bahu Aur Betiyan on Aaj Tak and Saas, Bahu Aur Saajish on Star News. Cinema has always been a major content provider for television and it is no different for news channels, many of which have special programmes on the movies—Khabar Filmy Hai, Zee Multiple, E- tonight on CNN-IBN, Big Pictures in Sakshi, Cinema Scope in NTV, ETV Talkies in ETV2, Movie Mantra, Bollywood.com in TV5, Matinee Show on TV9.
Then we have special shows to catch up with celebrities and their partying ways, much like the Page 3 coverage in newspapers, on special shows such as Night Out on NDTV. On some Telugu news channels, special programmes showcase even functions where the soundtracks of movies are released. In fact, last year saw the emergence of E24, an exclusive entertainment news channel targeted at Bollywood fans.
How we define news and information is debatable, but it is clear that the evolution of television news channels has changed the way we see and perceive news. Still, the intermingling of news and entertainment can only harm the profession formerly known as journalism.
P.N. Vasanti is director of New Delhi-based multidisciplinary research organization Centre for Media Studies. Your comments and feedback on this column, which runs every other Friday, are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
Graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint