Are Television Talk Shows in Bangladesh Just a Display of Power Dominance?

The Bengalees are typically known as “addabaj.” Whether it be at home or on the street or in a shopping mall or in nearby “mahalla,” regular chitchats among people are a common feature, to say the least. Even women take part in the same manner and the same style. Nowadays, our internal addabaj phenomenon has taken a formal stage. It is called “Live TV Talk Show!” It all started nearly 20 years ago when formal TV talk shows used to take place. These talk shows were based on current affairs where famous celebrities or personas used to take part. There were live telephone calls where people used to ask various questions to their respective persona.

Later, this concept was geared toward political shows. Leading politicians or newcomer MPs gathered at the shows. It was thought that these live political shows will bring an impact on the total political scenario of the country. To some extent, it did. These political shows were mainly copied from foreign talk shows. But our political shows utterly failed to carry both in terms of political wits and sophisticated presentations. Even famous playwrights like Humayun Ahmed, in his late book, penned, “People are not learning anything from talk shows or cooking shows.” Indeed! Let’s analyse.

A talk show or chat show is a television programming or radio programming genre in which one person (or group of people) discusses various topics put forth by a talk show host. Talk shows had been broadcast on television since the earliest days of the medium. Joe Franklin, an American radio and television personality, hosted the first television talk show in 1951 on WJ7-TV  (later WABC-TV) and moved to talk show (later WWOR-TV) from 1962 to 1993. NBC’s The Tonight Show is the world’s longest-running talk show, having debuted in 1954 and still going.

Talk shows have created many stars like Larry King, Oprah Winfrey, David Coleman, and Tim Sebastian. Larry King hosted the Larry King Live from July 1985 on CNN and continued until June 2010. It was the most watched and longest-running program on CNN, which had over one million viewers every night. Oprah Winfrey started her talk show in 1986, and this program lasted until 2011. 

Tritiyo Matra is the pioneer of talk shows in Bangladesh. It started its journey on 17 July 2003 and was broadcasted every day. Most viewers of these shows believe that social and political issues are the most important discursive subjects of most satellite TV channel talk shows. Most of the audience think of political talk shows as just a platform of power dominance between the government and opposition parties, and these shows cannot answer public queries about the reasons and solutions of the socio-political problems.

Again, politicians cannot deliver anything to create political awareness among the audience. According to them, though politicians try to manipulate people into getting the vote, it has very little effect on public opinion.

Our countrymen have their own mindset about selecting their political party, any order and decree and their own candidates. It is rare that a political campaign has little effect on their mind. One glaring example is that ideology of extreme nature never got popularity in this region. At present, political talk shows have never become able to make a conscious move on the young generation and failed to create a platform of communication between the government and the public.

The producers of these shows select strong and vocal guests from their own ideology and weak guests from the opponent ideology, where moderators control the talk shows at their will. They conclude these talk shows, with their agenda-setting and awareness-creating capability, help viewers analyse the political environment. A group of teachers and journalists who are actually supporters of different political parties try to introduce themselves as intellectuals by just appearing on talk shows. They lack real knowledge, experience, and efficiency.

Again, anchors and guests are more focused on how they look rather than the presentation. Television talk shows are mostly elite-centric, male-centric and city-centric. There is little public participation in these shows. Discussions of such shows are ill-informed and polarised to any political party, with a few exceptions. Politicians, business people and other decision-makers decide what the issues and discussions are. They failed to identify the areas what the countrymen should do in times of crisis.

It is assumed that these type of shows often reflect the intellectual perspective of persons with little knowledge or persons doing chitchat in a haatbazar. Rhetoric statements are not always workable. In these shows, the guests ignore the main problems while dwelling on some unimportant talks. There is a saying in English, “The best way to kill an idea is to take it to a meeting.” This statement holds true in our talk shows.

Those persons who participate in the talk show are often perceived as persons of high level. But in reality, these high-level thoughts are no longer practicable in democracy. That’s why the intellectual growth of our intellectuals is going down the drain.

During conversations, the guests of the talk shows do not demonstrate intellectual depth but rather a new type of people like Shahed-Sahid who are really manifesting themselves in contaminating the society, taking the opportunity to establish themselves as intellectuals. 

During the 90s, a class of people devoid of development and working attitude defined themselves in society to establish their nitty-gritty statements. Such a mother-father-daughter trio established themselves as intellectuals of the country. Their mouth of word actions has plummeted due to the change in recent foreign and domestic policies of the present Government.

Nowadays, they post their comments on talk shows in a non-coherent way. Sometimes they have been commodified by monetary value. Here money rules the world. According to Amartya Shen, once Rabindranath Tagore remarked that British Rule in India had got many items from Europe, but they destroyed the humanitarian relationships which existed in India over centuries. Talk shows have not established a democratic sense among our people. It is simply a show. 

Recently, it has been observed that most TV Talk shows air after 10 PM to 2 AM, which is the time for sleeping for most of the viewers. The arrest of Dr Zafrullah and Barrister Moinul Hossain often contradicts the so-called rationalisation of democracy existing in Bangladesh. 

In view of the above circumstances, I leave it to the behest of readers to express their opinion on whether these types of merit-selling based talk (or talkative) shows are beneficial to society as well or not.


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Contributor

Nuzhat Rifa Ehsan

Nuzhat Rifa Ehsan is a columnist. Reach her at [email protected] to learn about her.

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