Indian television

Channel surfing: A panel debate that wasn’t a slugfest? That’s Rajya Sabha TV for you

The public broadcaster is winning fans with its sober programming.

If you’re looking for a dollop of calm and reasonable conversations, you could do worse than head over to Rajya Sabha TV. I’ve been hearing this on and off and decided to check it out for myself the other day by tuning in to the programme The Big Picture, which focused on India-Africa ties.

It was a remarkable discussion, providing actual context to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s trip to four African countries. One of the panelists touched upon the fact that China is a factor in India’s relationship with the continent and pointed out that the expanding relationship with African countries is driven by commercial interests. Journalist and strategic affairs analyst Pramit Pal Chaudhuri pointed out that 50% of FDI in Africa is in services, so we are talking about telecom, hospitals, financial services, which are areas of strength for India.

Chaudhuri was actually given enough time to make all his points. There was no rushing by host Girish Nikam, no “Right” or “Of course” or any verbal interjection to cut Chaudhuri off.

And then it was the next panelist’s turn, and then the next, with Nikam coming in only essentially to raise his questions rather than speechify.

‘The Big Picture – India-Africa Ties’.

It felt like a proper conversation, very civilised in tone and tenor, and substantive too. The panelists all got to weigh in on the issue of racism, how the government handled it, whether it would come up in talks (not likely in a state visit), and whether it casts a shadow on the resurgent ties. They disagreed with each other on several of these points, but it wasn’t a slanging match. We had the right guests on hand to talk us through some of the highlights and challenges in these relationships (also the problem that India tends to have with lumping all of Africa in one hyphenated part of those “ties”).

By the time the discussion was over, I felt I had learned something, been part of an engaging conversation, and didn’t feel the urge to flick channels. There’s a fascinating social experiment in there somewhere. I wonder if we’ve gone too far along the other way in our news consuming behaviours, though that remains to be seen. (This type of format may never work online, for one).

I belatedly noted two surprising things though – there weren’t any back-up visuals or B-roll (which has become a default setting for TV news). And sadly, this was a manel.

Nonetheless, when you’re in the mood for analysis and information on the telly rather than a gladiatorial match or a volley of infotainment, I suggest flipping to RSTV.

On Sunday afternoon, the channel has the programme Virasat with a lovely look back at Zohra Sehgal’s life (complete with an old map tracing her journey to England by land through Multan, Tehran, Gaza and Lebanon.) I’m not entirely sure what Doordarshan is thinking in terms of packaging nostalgia, but, whatever works! I’d love to see if there are considerable ratings for this one.

Amrita Tripathi is an author and recovering news junkie. She has previously worked for CNN-IBN and The Indian Express. At times, she may have a glancing familiarity or more with the news players mentioned.

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