Anyone who complains about the tabloidisation of news channels in India-and that includes me-ought to have watched CNN's Oscar-style coverage of the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles. There they were: Becky Anderson, Anderson Cooper and the very excitable Richard Quest, who talked to all manner of people, including a statue of Queen Victoria. Call it the Fox News effect but they chatted endlessly about Camilla's dress, her weight, tea towels and, of course, the weather, easily outsmarting BBC World, which was suffering from the Ghost ka Dost phenomenon: what would Princess Diana think?
In India, I suspect the equilibrium is on its way. It takes a sometime victim like actor Shah Rukh Khan to articulate it. According to him, viewers can now instinctively distinguish between real and commercial news. Perhaps real and surreal is more precise. How else do you describe the sight of a giggling Mallika Sherawat and a slouching Zayed Khan holding forth on the Union budget on a business news channel? Or a lifestyle show on another channel which showed us every bit of Jassi's makeover, as if we had not already had that crammed down our throats by Sony's all pervasive pr machine, even as another channel had Mahesh Bhatt reporting on the bus to Muzaffarabad.
Everyone knows that's entertainment. It's not so much about manufacturing consent (almost every news channel has a particular point of view in India, and thank God for it) as manufacturing content. That's because real stories are becoming difficult to do, or at least to sell. A lot is going wrong with the tsunami rehabilitation but the story dies out because the only remotely oomphy angle Vivek Oberoi, surprisingly, decides to keep quiet after the initial flare-up. Even more is going on between the Government and the party that leads the UPA coalition but because Congressmen live in mortal dread of being caught saying the wrong thing, we are led to believe the problems are limited. It takes an old man's indiscreet comments about other old men to put national politics back on the media agenda, but even here the BJP has become so unused to the glare of TV cameras that its snigger-happy spokesman has to read out a statement.
In the absence of any substantive progress on Kashmir, frankly, I can't wait to hear about what General Pervez Musharraf is going to have for breakfast. Lunch. And dinner.