Of course, television talk-shows — one of the most popular types of television programs — play very effective roles in changing any society with enormous positive impacts. As it appears, television channels — both government and private — arrange talk-shows by a talk-show host on various topics in diverse broad areas including economic, political, religious, cultural, international, and current affairs. Talk-shows, which are broadcast live or recorded, usually involve a range of experts including academicians, journalists, researchers and politicians, and laypeople for their expert views, experience, etc. It is undeniable that talk-show programs, discursive strategies of which are interview, discussion and/or debate, confession, or testimony, raise awareness on wide-ranging affairs, help solve diverse problems with effective solution measures, re-write realities, etc.

Television talk-shows began for the first time on Radio in the 1930s and then on television in the 1950s. In 1951, Joe Franklin — an American radio and television personality — hosted the first-ever television talk-shows on WJZ-TV in the USA. Since then television talk-shows spread in other countries. At present, television talk-shows that can be daytime, evening, and late-night are held across countries covering a wide range of areas. In Bangladesh, TV talk-shows started in 2002-03. ‘Tritoy Matra’ is rendered as the first TV talk-show in Bangladesh. Later, the number of television talk-show programs has enormously increased in the country. Almost all TV channels now broadcast talk-shows with an increasingly diversified focus involving socio-economic, political, and other affairs.

But within a very short time, talk-shows got immense popularity and contributed much to the improvement of diverse political, economic, social, environmental, cultural, and other situations in Bangladesh. Of course, interview-based, political, issue-based, and other talk-shows that raise irregularities in diversified areas and give an in-depth picture of varied issues improved understanding and provided pathways for addressing different problems, changed perceptions among diverse groups of people and their relations with their surroundings, helped different stakeholders to make effective decisions, changed social norms and values, and brought some other positive impacts in the society. Yet, overall contributions of TV talk-shows as a public sphere are not as desired. There are many topics-based, participants-based, and discussions-based limitations with talk-shows programs of the country.

Firstly, areas of focus are not adequately diversified. As it appears, talk-shows are mostly arranged on urgent and other limited issues in political, social, economic, and some other areas, usually with more emphasis on politics. These are undeniably crucial and require considerable public awareness and attention from other relevant actors including respective government bodies and political parties for improvements. But there are many other crucial contemporary and vision-oriented issues in education, economic development, rural development, poverty reduction, and international affairs including migrants, challenges to increased exports, economic zones, blue economy, aviation sector, and bilateral and multilateral agreements that deserve to be given increased attention. Owing to limited focus, irregularities and challenges in diverse crucial areas remain scantily addressed.

Secondly, talk-show speakers are not well represented. With a few exceptions, talk-shows are city-centric and mostly held with some common groups of elite participants such as academics, politicians, journalists, and celebrities. But there are wide criticisms that affected individuals or groups of people are not adequately participated, though some talk-shows are now increasingly connecting them over the phone, virtually, or in-person. Also, pro-government civil society members are mostly invited, dissent voices are less invited, and many other non-party notable experts or scholarly persons, whose views may add significant value to the topic and discussions, do not get a scope. As is further criticized, participants are treated differently; pro-government participants usually get more time while dissent voices do not get needed scope even when it is needed for self-defense on sensitive issues.

Thirdly, there are some discussion-based drawbacks with television talk-show programs. Discussions neither reflect adequate analysis nor seek out solutions to diverse problems on most occasions, even though some talk-show programs are improving on these commendably and enormously. As is often criticized, discussions are polarized reflecting affiliated party ideologies especially in political talk-shows, and are not based on genuine public interests. Not less important is that standards of discussions that are sometimes marred by verbal quarrels among participants — even if this trend has decreased much in recent years — and increased emphasis on irrelevant issues especially by speakers are sometimes compromised. Consequently, many relevant real facts, important analytic information and views, and effective suggestions often failed to be surfaced.

But it is undeniable that is a range of underlying reasons which deserve to be noted. Some notable reasons are the biasness of hosts and speakers, the political-ideological affiliation of channel owners, and the influence of the government. Hosts and owners have political biasness that affects the selection of topics and participants and the direction of discussions. Of course, the biasness of speakers substantially affects discussions. Additionally, the influence of the government can significantly determine talk-shows and their outcomes. As is criticized, the government directly controls talk shows — at least on some occasions — through the imposition of restrictions or censorships on topics, participants, and channel owners with a variety of means including restrictive laws such as the ICT act and the digital security act.

Since talk-shows have enormous impacts on society, improvement with measures aiming at addressing the above drawbacks is imperative. Of course, focal areas need to be diversified. In this respect, talk-shows need to focus on issues reflective of visionary plans and diverse potential development areas, along with urgent/current political and other problems. Besides, participants should be drawn from a broad range of stakeholders, and the professionalism of hosts needs to be emphasized. The views of wide-ranging participants including dissents are more revealing and can bring better outcomes. More emphasis should be given to the analysis of problems/topics and the identification of solutions. A dialogical approach that is collaborative and revealing can be employed more than a debate approach that is combative and victorious especially in political talk-shows for seeking solutions.

Not less important is that reduction of the influence of channel owners and the government is crucial. Of course, TV channel owners need to give more freedom to hosts for talk-shows. More importantly, the government should refrain from controlling talk-shows and should make sure that such programs can enjoy deserved scope for justified criticisms on issues or acts that affect the lives and interests of people. Also, talk-show speakers should be more facts-based and dissents should avoid criticisms for criticism. Justified and facts-based criticisms can help understand problems and their causes better and identify effective solutions needed for the improvement of social, economic, political, and other situations of the country.

© The Eastern Herald
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Amir Sayem
Studied Masters of Population Sciences from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Writing about issues including social, political, public health, environmental, and international relations. Contributor to The Eastern Herald from Bangladesh.