Code of Conduct for talking heads

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Although the Masuda Bhatti-Moinul Hosein affair has become as much political as it was about media and common public decency, the issue is also about how media operates and individuals interact with it. The biggest lesson that should be learnt is that there is a universal code of conduct about social interaction, and should be followed by all. It’s not about politicians, media workers, activists, government officers, etc, but everyone.

However, it’s probably an uphill battle to get this message across. We live in a society where rudeness is considered a sign of power and threats are considered a common form of discourse.  And now we have a training ground for such behavior to which millions belong called social media. So the natural desire to be rude and abusive is given a form of legitimacy. To some extent the “rudeness” of the Digital Security Act is a reflection of that reality.  Even laws are rude nowadays.

Having said that, just as many are protesting the unpopular DSA, and many are using it to file cases, the fact remains that media needs some sort of protection from such behavior particularly those that occur in the TV Talk shows.

Politics of talk shows

As a regular albeit reluctantly at these media talk shows, I have found that I am very uncomfortable when I am put with officials, politicians or law enforcement agencies. These people are very powerful whether in office or in the public space. And they bring it to the Talk shows creating a situation which is both unseemly and unpleasant. It destroys any kind of environment where issues can be discussed seriously.

The only people who seem to be free from such baggage are media workers but owners and Editors are a different matter.  They have more in common with politicians than plain media workers.

Media and Politicians

In one talk show some years back, the law enforcement agency boss shouted down people at the table and created an environment which made participation impossible. However, the lesson was learnt. Never go to a talk show where such people are there.

The second kinds are the senior journalists and Editors who see themselves at a higher level than others. But not all are like them and the younger Editors are far more sophisticated and able to handle themselves well. So this is a dicey area to make a distinction. Best is to stay away from Editors who have a political axe to grind, my experience shows.

It’s surprising but politicians are the most nervous of the lot and that is why they tend to be most aggressive and offensive. I have had several sits with them and find they are driven by a political survival instinct more than anything else.

At one particular talk show, AL and BNP mid-level stars were there who were having a functional conversation for a change. However, at some point, one leader made a political stab and frankly an unfair comment. The other guy sitting next to me said, “See. Now that he has said this, I have to say something in return.  I can’t talk the way you are talking.”

So I asked him why he couldn’t be sensible and logical. He said that his workers and constituents were watching and if they saw him not being aggressive, his status would be lowered.  So in the best interest of politics he also made a nasty remark and this was followed by a response. I immediately began to count the minutes to the end and would be able to collect my Taka 2000 and go home.

People love kaijja

I was recently invited by a TV station to discuss current political events. I expressed dismay as the topic is so repetitive and few things can be said which are fresh. The TV station said that they had actually run a survey on what the people wanted to see and found that almost everyone wanted to see politics.  When I asked what they wanted to see and hear discussed, they said, it didn’t matter as long as politics between the 2 parties was biii Perhaps the answer lay in a talk show encounter where one politician would in a state of excitement stand up and deliver a thundering speech every time he was asked a question. It was one of the more absurd TV experiences I have been through. As we were leaving a production assistant came over and said, “I know you hate this kind of show but the public loves it. They are not interested in politics but in the jhogra and tamasha. This will have the highest TRP no doubt. Sorry sir, this is Bangladesh.”

I agree and accept that this is Bangladesh no matter how much I dislike it. Watching two or three people fight on the street or any public place is one of the most popular and cheap entertainments available. The problem is that when the media talk shows begin to resemble street fights the purpose of both the street fight show and the talk shows are defeated.

We can only do so much but we could begin by writing a Code of Conduct for all who go to any TV talk show.  It may be totally useless but at least it will not mean caving in to such tamasha which we have started to take for granted.

  • Code of Conduct for talking heads
  • Issue 16
  • Afsan Chowdhury
  • Vol 35
  • DhakaCourier

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