Good vibes only: Good News Today is more motivational channel than news channel

It’s got the usual saas-bahu stuff, fortune telling, and bhajan offerings. But it also has Sonu Sood.

WrittenBy:Meghnad S
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On September 4, Kalli Purie, the vice-chairperson of the India Today Group, stood on a pulpit in the channel’s studio and sent a giant swirling blue ball into the wall. This was followed by a formation of CGI helicopters belching out “GNT” into the sky outside the India Today Mediaplex building.

This marked the launch of their new channel, Good News Today.

No seriously, this happened.

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You must be wondering, “Wait...ANOTHER news channel? How many more do we need?”

Let me tell you, dear reader, this is no ordinary news channel. It’s a channel with a twist.

As Purie explained, “as a news channel we will report about the current affairs, economics, sports and topical events but the idea is to highlight and bring forth the good from around the ugly. The orientation is towards a solution not the problem.”

We watched this channel for the past few days to figure out what exactly it’s trying to do. And to put it in one single sentence: Good News Today is a 24x7 channel where chirpy anchors will give you “good news” while eating samosa-jalebi and staring into the camera as they chew on TRPs. Quite literally.

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These visuals are from their evening show, “Chai par Charcha”, where not one but five anchors appear on your screen and deliver the positive news of the day. News like how Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel hosted a party at his house where he was forced to do an awkward dance.

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How Smriti Irani and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi casually ate some dosa in Mumbai with cameras present.

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And some stuff about how India is fighting the good Covid fight by vaccinating people in record numbers. But since that news is not “positive” enough, they reported it while telling people how festivals are coming! And the viewers should be excited! Covid appropriate behavior? What’s that? Let’s show good vibes and celebrations!

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The five anchors on screen spent an inordinate amount of time talking about the origins of samosa too. One remarked, “India has given the world samosas, isn’t that amazing?” Another responded, “Actually, according to my information, samosa came from Turkmenistan to India.” The third just went on to laugh and tell everyone, “I just eat the corners. Don’t you just love that?”

Infectious laughter ensued with further discussion on samosas with some jalebis and chai thrown in. And that went on for a while.

Apart from stealing Modiji’s “Chai pe Charcha” campaign idea and reappropriating it, Good News Today pulled a fast one by enrolling Sonu Sood as a primetime “news” anchor. Every night, GNT will feature Sood spreading good cheer and being a positive role model, just like he did during the first and second wave of Covid.

In case you forgot what Sood did, GNT helpfully had a 40-minute segment where they propped him up as their star attraction. He watched on as they ran through pictures and videos of him helping migrant citizens during the crisis, and he told stories about how he kept a positive mental attitude while running his volunteer network.

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Total slam dunk by the India Today Group here, I’d say. Who exemplifies positivity and cheer more than Sonu Sood in these depressing times? The man emerged as a ray of hope for thousands as governments across the board flailed cluelessly.

Sood’s show, which is titled “Desh Ki Baat, Sonu Sood ke Saath”, is supposed to be something on the lines of the ol’ “Satyamev Jayate” hosted by Aamir Khan. Sood brings in role models from around the country to interact with him, while he delivers “good news” about how they brought about a change in society.

While other channels host their daily screaming matches, Good News Today will have Sood soothing the audience with smooth stories at the 9 pm primetime slot. If nothing else, it’s an interesting experiment. Let’s see how long it lasts.

Coming to their other fun offerings, they have “Bhajan Samrat” Anup Jalota to sing every morning and say positive motivational things.

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They also have Shailendra Pandey doing a fortune telling show called “Good Luck Today”. And, of course, that is the most popular video on their YouTube channel right now because if there is one thing Indian audiences watch “news” channels for, it is to find out how many cloves they have to put in front of their gods today.

Pandeyji gives similar “upaays” or solutions to get wealth, like how you need to get up at midnight on Friday, pray to Goddess Laxmi, and put a rose garland around the murti.

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And since fortune telling has been covered, obviously they also have a show to give you updates on saas-bahu-revenge-after-turning-into-snek drama happening on entertainment channels. The show is called “Saas Bahu aur Betiyan”. The “betiyan” part gives it another fresh and positive dimension, I suppose.

All of these are the regular, tried and tested, fluffy “news” offerings in India. You can get it on other channels which are trying to fill the airwaves for 24x7 too. But what about actual “news” content on Good News Today?

You see, “Good News Only Plz” is not a new concept. In the US, a quarterly magazine called Positive News was launched in 1993 which focuses on “constructive journalism”. In India too, we have Better India, a popular news website which focuses on publishing positive stories. They claim to reach 90 million people every month. So, the market for these stories definitely exists.

But does giving a positive spin to every story come at the expense of less information being provided to the reader/viewer? And wouldn’t it mean that people in power won’t be held accountable, since hard-hitting journalism tends to be considered a “negative approach”?

Kalli Purie had this to say in an interview to BestMediaInfo, “Every piece of news can’t be good; we are not glossing over reality. We will in some situations hold those responsible for bad news accountable. Yes, it’s the job of news channels to hold the powers accountable. Without the superb work of news channels through corona, I believe more people would have died. But I believe it’s also the task of the news channels to highlight solutions and shine the light. Right now, the news landscape is not balanced.”

We picked one news bulletin at random to check if the news being reported was given a positive spin. Sample this.

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This is a news item from Wednesday morning which reads “good news before festival season”, with a picture of Adarniya Modiji. The report is about how the cabinet is going to consider giving a relief package to the telecom and auto sector. The anchor presents it as “good news for these two sectors”.

The report said Idea-Vodafone has a debt of Rs 1.9 lakh crore on its head, in addition to a Rs 60,000 crore-plus sum due towards spectrum allocations. In this situation, the government might come out with a relief package to help them out. But if you look at reports from other news channels, there is a vital detail that has been ignored here.

The telecom sector is stressed and companies like Idea-Vodafone have been reporting massive losses. This is after Reliance Jio came into the market and undercut their prices, snatched away customers and became the biggest player in the market. The government is providing this “relief package” to prevent a duopoly situation between Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel. This would involve deferring payments that are to be received from telecom operators to the government, and on top of it providing a government guarantee which would help them raise money. None of these details were mentioned and, we must point out, these are extremely important details.

But on Good News Today, no such effort was made to inform the viewer. The news item was sandwiched between some fun cricket news about how India will battle it out with Pakistan next month, and how India is vaccinating people (with one dose) in record numbers. The very important bit about the second dose found barely any mention.

Here’s another instance. The video is titled “Bihar Flood News” which starts with the channel singing praises to Narendra Modi launching Amrit Mohatsav schemes. The next part is about schools reopening in Leh-Ladakh, a teacher who teaches kids in a Madhya Pradesh village, and a school on a boat in Bihar.

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All of these are great, positive, inspiring stories about people overcoming difficulties, granted. But by going micro, the real macro picture gets lost.

In the last monsoon session, the ministry of education gave a list of the number of schools with internet facilities in each state. According to this, more than 1,19,581 schools have internet facilities in India.

But, in a separate question, the ministry of education stated that ​​there are 10,32,569 government schools in India. Which means only 11.5 percent of schools actually had access to the internet. That’s right, nine out of 10 government schools in India did not have access to the internet during the pandemic. A channel like Good News Today would just ignore this larger picture – because it’s depressingly real – to pull out positive stories.

It’s quite strange that this is a 24x7 news channel, which has all the time in the world to give detailed reports, and yet it doesn’t really try. Not that we have any sort of expectations from other news channels, but Good News Today might just have struck upon a formula to not even try to come up with an excuse for not giving real news to the people.

Good News Today is more of a motivational channel than a news channel.

With inputs from Yusra Hasan.

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