Education, Politics Get Short Shrift On Television News

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New Delhi, Jan 13 (UNI) While public spending on education went up, its coverage on Indian television news channels went down in 2007, a study says.

Political reporting which once dominated news coverage yielded airwaves to sports, entertainment, crime and human interest stories and trivia and comic relief, according to a study by the Centre For Media Studies released last evening.

The Centre study tracked newscasts on half a dozen channels-- DD News, Aaj Tak, NDTV India, Sahara Samay, Star News and Zee News-- using September 1-15, 2007 as a point of reference.

Between them, it said, the six channels devoted 13,277 minutes to news-- 2,528 items, including 69 development stories-- compared to 8,323 minutes of commercial breaks.

India's spending on education, planners say, has been on the rise, an indication that the nation may be trying to come to grips with its importance in development.

The spending on education by the Centre and States grew from seven per cent of the total public spending during the tenth 5-year Plan to over 20 per cent during the 11th Plan, an official said.

The coverage of education and related matters on the six channels in 2005, 2006 and 2007 fell from an already low 1.6 per cent to 0.9 per cent and 0.71 per cent respectively, the Centre study showed.

A Centre analysis said the channels' handling of news underwent ''a radical transformation''-- not only in terms of ''definition and content, but also in the manner in which it is presented.'' A rise in comedy and so-called 'reality shows,' the emergence of trivia in news and, most significantly, the end of political news dominance, ''is the face of the news channels today.'' It said TV news today is no longer political but more augmented with sports, entertainment, and crime stories.

The time spent on political news in the year 2007 was down by more than 50 per cent, as compared to 2005-- from 23.1 per cent in 2005 to 10.09 per cent in 2007.

Coverage of sports, entertainment, crime and human-interest news ''more than doubled-- from 27.9 per cent in 2005 to 53.1 per cent in 2007,'' the Centre said.

It said the coverage of agriculture, education, health and environment remained insignificant. ''The relevance of content in news has obviously seen a decline, with stories of ghost hunting, celebrity tracking on the rise.'' The Centre said the portrayal of trivia in news ''has made'' such market followers as India TV and Star News market leaders now and the repeated use of 'breaking news' and 'exclusive' rendered such terms meaningless.

''The focus of the news and its interpretation is lacking,'' the Centre analysts noted.

Sensationalising the most trivial issues and sidelining serious national and international issues was helping make news shows entertaining rather than enlightening or informative, the Centre indicated.

Instead of the field, shows were relying more often on studio discussions interspersed with video clips, graphics, features or dramatisation, which make for an ''easy'' and ''cost effective'' bulletin.

Imitations are on the rise, with each channel having virtually the same thing to say or show-- leaving viewers little choice of content. Competition, instead of improving, appeared to have a deteriorating effect, as evidenced in a fabricated ''sting''.

The Centre cited the missing rural India and only slightly better-covered small towns-- with Delhi and Mumbai still accounting for more than 50 per cent of the news.

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