The debate behind the debate

Sometimes when I see people watching political debates, the BJP vs Cong vs SP types, and getting all animated over it, a part of me sympathizes with them. That is unless they are watching it for some fun, like if Arnab is threatening someone or talking to a chair. But otherwise, the futility of the entire exercise just stares out at me.

There are news debates and there are news debates. Some will have an issue, the usual spokespersons from political parties who will then play passing the parcel wimain-qimg-44733b352e665d972da656384505905bth who is the guilty party. In such debates, the only saving grace would be that one panelist of the six (or maybe two) who would appear as non partisan. And it is only when they speak, do you really hear because apart from that it is all white noise or for better or worse entertainment.

Do you ever think the BJP or Congress candidate will say: Oh yes you are right, my party fucked up? Ok maybe in a more civil language but do you think it would happen? They will look lame, they will say words that may make it difficult for them to look at themselves in the eye at night, but they are paid to defend the parties. That is exactly what they are going to do.

Several news channels, especially the ones that apparently started using the debate format in India for want of capital to invest on reporters, will try giving it the dramatic and theatrical feel with shouting matches and a heavy dose of jingoism thrown in. I really think it has lowered the quality of debates on our news channels. It all gets so repetitive and the justifications are so formatted that you and I could argue on the side of either parties. What about 1984? What about 2002? It just depends on which political party one belongs to. The arguments are mostly the same.

I sometimes think that since we do not see the guilty being brought to book in our lifetimes, watching maybe a news show when the anchor goes after the politicians is cathartic every night at 9. It reduced the collective anger of the nation by a few points. I say it because I have felt it at times.

However, like I said there definitely are nuanced debates as well and it would be unfair to make a sweeping generalization. On several occasions, the news per se is nothing or even misleading without the proper perspective, or like new channels like to say: the news behind the news. For example rise in diesel prices is can be such a vague news story to flog a hail the establishment without it being told that the global crude oil prices have fallen etc. And it is here that the host and the panelists who are invited make such a huge difference.

If on such debates, you have firstly fewer people (so many windows intimidate me) and have them not talked over, it really helps. Secondly, I wish, especially in terms of complex or technical issues, more air time was given to former non partisan expert and neutral commentators than the politicians. Oh yes news channels do need their version and also need to get them to book, and ‘expose’ them before the nation which is fair. But please do not give them the liberty of too much air time: we would have been watching a Sajid Khan movie if we wanted to see bad television.

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