Indian TV media of 300+ general news, sports news, and business news channels in different languages reflect the larger picture of news in the country. The reason I was not able to give the exact count of channels is that it is always increasing and for me, the total number is not really important factor. Well, today we are not really going to talk about the content of news, but I am more interested in the way that news is being presented. I am not really from the journalism background, so there are chances that some technical terms might be missing. This article is an outcome actually frustration as an audience.
Indian TV media is an industry which has almost tripled between 2006 and 2014. This shows that the TV Media has become an important part of infotainment in day to day life of a common citizen. They have come a long way in terms of their scope, coverage and technical quality.
Nowadays we all are so busy (this is what everyone claims) that it is difficult to find sufficient time to read a newspaper so, we prefer watching TV news. But since last 6-8years TV media has become so noisy that it is too difficult to tolerate. Considering so many news channels available, competing to give more information is obvious and is ok, but this should not mean crowding the screen so much that the viewer gets confused and in some cases panicked. I always wonder if the TV news is for watching and listening or for reading. Now the unwanted shouting while presenting news all together is a different topic of discussion. But talking about screen display alone, it is always difficult to find out the connection between video, audio, and taglines. Sometimes the taglines are so funny and irrelevant that you wonder someone actually is getting paid to create that kind of stuff (no offense, but seriously?). Not just that, the whole screen is so jumbled and overloaded that it is difficult to distinguish at to which part the screen is news, advertisement, opinion or an announcement. And, this is a usual scenario for 24 hours and not just at any point, in fact, it gets worse at the so-called prime time.
The television media broadcasting designs or screen layout or screen interface refers to the layout image displayed during a television media program broadcast. Now, these layouts differ between news channels and countries. These screens should display information which includes things such as main news topics and headlines, channel logo, in some cases live score, weather and stock market information, etc. The main purpose of these broadcasting designs or layouts is to present to viewers a concentrated level of information within the shortest amount of time while maintaining an adequate balance so that excessive detail does not confuse the viewer. At present, there is no specific standard which is being followed (at least I couldn’t find one if any of our readers know about it please do share it) which will decide the percentage allocation of space for the particular type of content in addition to many other details. This case is not different for any channels.
If I look at different news channels, on an average there are 7-11 points of information at any given time, out of which only channel logo and in some cases the anchor is stable, the other elements like 3-4 moving scrolls, usually at the bottom of the screen and additional boxes of information like some score, or channel rating data for promotion or even an advertisement. In the past few years, television news channels have begun to reformat their screen presentations to include scrolling screens, sports scores, stock prices, current weather news and even advertisements. Visual presentation and new age graphics are also important determinants of individual television channel identity and branding. Hence, no matter which channel one turns to on television, there is a high likelihood of finding visual elements that seem to clutter the screen – making it difficult to focus on one thing. This has reached the point that every news has an on-screen tag, the packaging is so clumsy to find the content. Heavy (sometimes funny) graphics with multiple bright colors (red and blue are favorite for most of the channels), font sizes, boxes, and shapes are creating a new visual effect on screen and this clutter of information display has gone out of control for most of the channels. The condition is worse for Hindi and most of the local news channels. And surprisingly those have got maximum impressions as per BARC India data.
The familiar sight of a lone anchor talking to a camera has now reshaped by the trend of visual clutter. That makes me think, why we can’t have peaceful news broadcast as like DD news. It’s one thing for specialized channels like a business and sports news channels where viewers often tune in just to check a particular stock or score. But the effect of adding multiple scrolling lines of text to the average news is that many viewers are simply unable to process it all. In order to catch up with news, the viewer has to muddle through and unleash their listening skills and test their reading abilities too, only then they are able to get the full story otherwise get none or only partly or selectively of what is being put out in the news at any given point of time.
Looking at the current scenario, the belief of channels seems that most viewers can simultaneously read, listen and see the screen various information that is not always related or interrelated. While some may be comfortable with the crowded screen if the information is all related to the same topic. In the case of some news channels, the entire bottom half of the screen is covered with the taglines making the visual look more chaotic. Each new line of text is a potential distraction, pulling away from the viewer’s attention from the actual substance of the news.
Overloading with graphics. This is something which all news channels use without taking a break. A lot of graphics in use are fundamentally misleading. Take the “breaking news” label, channels regularly slap on just about any story, just to create an issue out of a non-issue. We know that there are already a lot of issues going on in India, so news channels really don’t need to create any further unwanted issues. Breaking news, just in, News Flash, First on, Exclusive, etc. on screen is more likely to take away the credibility of actual news irrespective the view on the spot. In any case, such distractions are affecting the knowing aspects of news.
This is not something which news channel owners are not aware of. But in spite of knowing the facts the situation is not changing. Maybe falling into a “TRP (Television Rating Point) trap” (which was brought out in 1998) can be one of the explanations for the clutter on screens of 24-hour news channels. This tendency to follow a similar format and pattern of using screen almost similar across all languages. However, news bulletins of non-news channels, like that of regional Doordarshan were found to be more focused.
There are certain actions which are in progress to reduce this. One of it is, The Right to Information Act 2005 which represents a historic breakthrough in recognizing the citizen’s democratic rights to monitor measures affecting the public good. Following adoption of the Act by the Parliament of India, a Transparency Studies wing has been set to document, examine and publicize the interrelation between governance and society in all its aspects. It facilitates dissemination of relevant material, confers with experts and field workers and networks with the media to promote implementation and awareness.
The functions of Transparency Studies include: (Reference: http://www.cmsindia.org/)
- Publishing and distribution by electronic mail of Transparency Review, a journal designed to publicize news, articles, and documentation concerning developments in Right to Information and the overall interface between governance and society. Priority is given to the right to education, especially of children; right to work; the right to justice and associated human and social rights, especially at the grassroots.
- Operating Transparency Features to disseminate articles and information on the above.
- Linking with civil society groups to further common objectives like exposing corruption, monitoring elections, improving civic services.
- Arranging discussions on emerging issues and problems between specialists and media persons.
All this shows that more understanding and research is required to make TV media more effective.