FRONT PAGE / POSTS
All that glitters
by Piyul Mukherjee| Mumbai, India
Monday, 14 March 2011
tags: asia, culture, global/local, making sense, semiotics, socioeconomics
Unlike BBC and CNN, who that take pride in having an eclectic global audience, NDTV aims to make its impression on the Indian citizen (and, at most, the nostalgic expat). It is keen to be numero uno only among the current glut of Indian news channels.
NDTV came into being in 1990 just ahead of India's economic liberalization in 1991. The aspiration was to be the generic challenger to state-owned Door Darshan (DD) TV. The old NDTV logo was far simpler than the gilt edged shine of the current offering which caters to an elite English-speaking fraction of the nation, numbering a few privileged millions in a population that crossed a billion a decade ago.
The main headlines are on horizontal bars of gold, with light quietly flashing off the metal. Changing graphics are stacked gold coins. There is, after all, more gold in the bank vaults of Indians than in the rest of the world put together. Gold prices have made a permanent abode in the stratosphere, pushed upwards by a set of people for whom gold will never go out of fashion.
And while the rest of the world and Steve Jobs may have been waxing eloquent on the beauty and elegance of a profusion of fonts available in a new tech-enabled world, NDTV continues to use squat capital letters long out of date. Leaving no space for any other word, these letters completely envelop the space available in the logo’s permanent corner.
The bindi is present here as a marker of the nation’s identity squashed between N and D, and so is the sound of the tabla in the audio ident. Historically, this rhythmic Indian instrument is considered a relatively modern marker (here for the past few hundred years since the Mughals) as opposed to the old fashioned Indian drum, the dhol (which has millennia behind it).
Is the channel really only catering to the local citizen? No international news channel can do that, can it? I see its global pretensions in the choice of the geographical maps used as illustration for every single news item. What the channel does is throw overboard the idea of political maps. Instead – physical maps are considered appropriate.
Politically speaking, India either includes an 'undivided' Kashmir crowning the country (as all Indians are taught in school) or has part of Kashmir tossed over the territory into Pakistan (as most maps in the rest of the world represent it). Physical maps create no such controversy. The show the way the world has been, long before humans settled into a life of geopolitical complexity. In fact the graphics don’t just stop at this – as background NDTV uses a galaxy. This suggests a time frame appropriate to the 24/7 channel's 'breaking news' moment to moment raison d’etre.
And if you take a look at NDTV's Hindi news channel, that’s pretty revealing in itself. Around 200 million consider the language to be their mother tongue, and another 400 million use it to converse with each other. The idea is to communicate a happening new nation and what better way to do it than to call the brand ‘NDTV India' , with India written in the Hindi script.
What’s the surprise there, you ask?
But we all call India Bharat in Hindi. Like the Germans calling their land Deutschland and Japan being Nippon at home. In all of our zillion local languages Bharat is our name. Can we imagine Germans having a home-based channel where the language is Deutsch all the way, but the channel itself is called 'something Germany'?
NDTV would like its viewers to draw authority and pride from the name the rest of the world uses to address the nation, India. From the outside looking in. It is this gaze that weaves the nation together today. At least in ‘news-speak’.
© Piyul Mukherjee 2011