People often walk up right to me and say, “Hamish, stop lying. We never walked up to you and said anything. In fact, we don’t think we even exist in real life. Stop making us up!!” It’s very disconcerting… But after a little bit of such bickering, they end up asking me, “Hamish, what is the right way to deliver news?“
Well, it certainly is a pertinent question. Back in my younger days, I was chronically unaware of news in general. My dad’s chief cause of concern was how utterly unaware I was of the things that were happening around me. This was particularly concerning at the time when I wanted to become a newspaper columnist.
“A newspaper columnist??? You?”
“Gee, thanks for the support, dad…”
As it turns out, he came from the old school of thinking which is quite insistent that people who write for newspapers should essentially be people who read newspapers. As long as I can remember, he has always been urging me to get my daily dose of what’s-happening-around-the-world. He was willing to try anything, and this relentless persistence has played a major role in my life. One day, I finally got to thinking, “Oh, my God. He really, truly, and sincerely cares about me following the news… I bet he’ll do anything for that to happen.”
And that’s the story of how I got cable TV.
“Yes, dad, I’m sure I will find it easier to follow the news on BNN… errr… yeah, CNN… I knew that. Our regular channels are boring. That’s the reason why I haven’t followed the news so far.”
And the internet.
“No, dad, the news of today is all delivered through the internet. Newspapers, news channels… they’re all history. You go online and you have interactive sessions with up-to-date information from all across the globe. The other media can’t boast of anything like that. And that’s the REAL reason why I haven’t followed the news so far.”
I guess I went too far with the home theater system, though
“Dad, today’s news is delivered in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio, and people who are still stuck in the stereo world of news delivery simply are lagging behind. And now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure that’s the ACTUAL reason why I haven’t followed the news so far.”
No, that didn’t work.
In general, my first inclination towards news has always been to ignore it. Fiction was always an easier source material for my rants. But as with all good things, it also had to come to an end. One fine day, quite inexplicably, I started wanting to know what was happening. And it was a very difficult quest for knowledge. Looking at a newspaper was like getting an ultra-mega epic novel in 2 million chapters and starting from the middle. All the politicians, sportsmen and other news-makers were new characters I had never heard of before. And I couldn’t ask people who these people were and what they were doing in the headlines, because the response was always either giving me the kind of look you’d give to a lobotomized hamster, or just thinking that I’m kidding.
“Ha, ha… Who is Sania Mirza indeed. What a kidder.”
And I’m never going to catch up, either. Because it’s not just enough for me to know the characters, but also what they did years ago…
“You say all that, but don’t forget. The way she acted in the Bofors scandal was despicable.”
“What’s a Bofor?”
“??? You’re kidding me, right? You don’t know about the Bofors scandal?”
“Eh? Oh, you mean THAT Bofor? Sure, I know him. I thought you may be talking about some other Bofor.”
And tada… the lobotomized hamster look is back in style.
Just as I was getting the hang of things, and started separating the heroes from the villains – I made the mistake of moving to an entirely different country. As some of you know, this December, I shifted base from the Garden City of Bangalore to the UAE (motto: you should try our sheikhs in the summer). It’s like shifting from the millionth chapter of one ultra-mega epic novel to right smack in the middle of an entirely new one. New characters, new stories, new rules and new plot twists.
Reading a newspaper from a different country is always an interesting experience. When I visited Singapore, I was impressed by the general view that they had a near-zero crime rate across the country. But this basically affects the quality of news delivered there. On the day I was there, the second page of the newspaper was a full page expose on the events and aftermath of a commotion… a couple who had a verbal fight right on the front steps of a popular mall. I kid you not – this minor quibble which couldn’t have occupied a one inch box of a newspaper gossip section back in India was really considered a newsworthy article in Singapore. I remember thinking at that point, that barring severely restrictive regimes with no freedom of speech, the mark of how peaceful/ safe a country is just may be how unimpressive their news articles are.
By that token, I personally feel that Oman deserves a special mention. One of the common food items in the Middle East is the Arabian bread, known as khubz. But in Oman, people call it ‘the Arabian bread’. To put things in perspective, this is like calling a bridge ‘the structure that allows people/ vehicles to cross an obstacle such as a river canal’.
The reason why people call it ‘Arabian bread’ instead of khubz is that the ruler of Oman is called Sultan Qaboos, pronounced roughly the same as khubz, and apparently, people are afraid they may mistake one for the other. I’m not really sure how that’s possible.
“Oh, for crying out loud… fine. What’s done is done. But… the next time I ask you to spread butter on the khubz…”
So in this little manner, there are subtle censorships and media control. But in general, the newspapers seem to be as pointless as microphones for mimes. On the day I visited Oman, the front page article read something like “Sultan Qaboos thanks President of Cambodia for his congratulations message”. Apparently, the said president – I’m not sure if it was Cambodia – had congratulated the Sultan on something the day before… and this had made the front page on the previous day. The front page of a prominent newspaper there was basically like a twitter feed for rulers…
You’re too kind
Don’t mention it
That’s potentially five day’s worth of front page articles right there. I suppose it’s better than having headlines that go “Breaking news: Today, absolutely nothing happened. Seriously. Somebody do something”
So let me get back to the topic we started with… How news is delivered needs to be customized across the world, and the media should ensure that the two tenets of journalistic standards are always maintained. First and foremost, integrity, honesty, and unbiased factual reporting is key. And secondly, if you get to a position where you’re reduced to tweet celebrity chitchat as headlines for the day… then you will simply have to… lie! For God’s sake, lie. Use your creativity and unleash some entertainment on your papers. Use the opportunity to print wildly fantastical stories like “Abominable snowman found hiding under bed”, or “Pope’s rap single hits Billboard top 20”, or “Sarah Palin reads book”
And last but not least, I’ll give this one more shot… dad, if you’re reading this… the real reason I haven’t been following news so far is because I don’t have this Lamborghini.