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Former Boston Globe editor John Driscoll once summed up why he thought media content was constantly being dumbed down, though the general pubic was smarter and better informed than before. Were people running newsrooms dumber? No, they were smarter than ever before. Why then was content getting dumber? He said he was forced to conclude that it was because the media thinks it’s smart to be dumb.

He wasn’t talking only of TV news, but I am. Does that explain why in a season of economic news, television news channels dish out programming that assumes the man or woman in front of the TV set wants neither hard information nor an explanation of which way the economy is shaping up? Is it just a smart marketing approach to getting more viewership to turn economics into politics, or soap-opera plot lines? Or is it because telescoping a multi-faceted railway budget into a visual of zooming bullet trains is a lot easier than trying to understand facts and figures and interpreting them for viewers?

The logic of 24-hour news is that if you come in at any point and watch for a bit, you will at least catch the main points. But here, you can surf across channels on a rail budget day and not get a single general news channel that is listing out the main points ever so frequently. Not even any of the three public broadcasters.

Unlike the American editor above, I am not convinced our TV newsrooms are smarter than before. They are not even structurally sensible. The star anchors who head them, and oversimplify arguments on a daily basis, are the bosses. Not the news heads overseeing the editorial operations. At least on special occasions, you would imagine there would be a financial editor as well in the studio to do some explaining of the news coming out of a railway budget, or an economic survey, or a Rangarajan report on poverty numbers. And a research bureau behind the scenes feeding him some numbers and analysis.

Instead, analysis is outsourced, so you cannot really control it or ensure that a decent job of covering major points is done. If a Nidhi Razdan or an Arnab Goswami does not know enough about railway finances to ask the right questions, they will not get asked. Instead, buzzwords such as populism, foreign direct investment (FDI) and rollbacks are dished out. If you don’t know enough economics, convert it into politics.

What both the general Hindi and English channels will pick up is toilets, automatic doors, bullet trains. The clichéd assumption about the aam viewer is that she has no interest in anything else, not even in knowing which parts of the country the new trains will link.

Or forget the studio. TV reporters, too, are math-resistant. Monday saw channels send their people haring around trying to find out how much the poor pay for their food. A reporter on India News badgered a poor woman into trailing him with her three children to the nearest grocery shop to buy her day’s rations on a budget of 47. Where was the news editor who could have said that he had got his facts all wrong? The cooking oil did not fit into her budget, he announced triumphantly, holding up a small bottle. And sabzi? There is no money left for sabzi! If she has three children, her budget for the day should have been 188 for the four of them, at a per capita figure of 47 per day. And would others like her be buying their rice and dal in the open market or with a ration card? But the story got aired.

Cut to Arnab Goswami, who is ranting about the poverty line even as those on his show who understand more try to tell him what the point of Rangarajan’s exercise was. He is asked to take into account that in that per capita figure, people are already getting subsidised rice at 1 a kilo in Tamil Nadu, for instance. No, why should I, he asks combatively.

“There are global benchmarks. The talk is of progress over time on the ground," says Swaminathan Aiyar. “The progress on the ground is a diet chart nobody can follow," rails the anchor. “It is cruel joke! Two slices of bread!" Aiyar is seen at a corner of the screen shouting, “The quality of this debate is pathetic!"

Then there are the business channels whose anchors function on the assumption that news of the economy is primarily for businessmen. You never get the impression that they are backed by a research bureau either. The analysts are guests, everybody trades acronyms, and Shereen Bhan’s (CNBC-TV18) smile seems to fade only when the market is going down, down, down. “Why did the market sulk," she wants to know. These are not anchors who can tell you themselves, the answer has to come from a guest on the show.

So, do our news channels give dumb content because they think it is smart to do so? Or because it is just the lazier option?

Sevanti Ninan is a media critic, author and editor of the media watch website thehoot.org. She examines the larger issues related to the media in a fortnightly column.

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