Assam channels re-enact poll wars

IN Media Practice | 17/05/2011
The Assam election process has been completed and the Congress has been returned to power with a thumping majority.
However, the battle continues to play out on the politically inspired channels, report TERESA REHMAN
The battle for the Assembly polls in Assam is over but it seems the real war has just begun. It is a spicy war between rival media houses, especially television channels. Just a day after the results were announced where the Congress got a landslide victory, News Live ran their regular show Akothyo (literally meaning ‘the unspeakable’) by its Editor-in-chief Atanu Bhuyan.
Bhuyan lashed out At opposition parties and said the ‘unspeakable’. He vehemently denied the tag attached to his channel: The channel of the Congress party’. He claimed, “We are a channel of the people of Assam. And in the absence of a proactive Opposition in the Assembly we will play the role of the Opposition from today. This is my pledge to the people of Assam.” (Incidentally, the channel is owned by the wife of Congress leader Himanta Biswa Sarma).
In fact, this special edition of ‘Akothyo’ was a show-stopper. Bhuyan lambasted the Opposition in his inimitable style and made a unique poll analysis which was both hilarious as well as thought-provoking. He claimed that he was the only journalist who could correctly predict the result. He said, “News Live is the only channel which had declared that Congress will win more than 71 seats through an exit poll.” He further chided members of his fraternity, “Unlike some journalists who sit in AC rooms and make predictions, we made the predictions based on some real ground work. We were criticized by some journalists who are really members of political parties and who wear the mask of journalists.”
They then went on to show some sound bytes by Opposition leaders like AGPs Prafulla Kumar Mahanta and BJPs Ranjit Dutta who made tall claims of forming the next government. He then said, “We like a regional party like the AGP. We want them to come to power.” But they performed woefully in the polls. And the credit, he said, goes to the three Virodhir khalnayaks (villains of the opposition parties) – farmer rights leader Akhil Gogoi, TV channel DY 365 and the newspaper Pratidin.
He said, “These three villains tried to create hype against the Congress party and made the AGP and BJP believe that they were going to win anyway. With their false predictions which they blew out of proportion, the AGP and BJP became so poised that they did not make enough effort to woo the voters.” It seems these media houses including, another newspaper called Aamar Asom had a poll prediction done by a senior police officer and they were confident that the Congress would be uprooted from the state.
Taking a dig at the rival channel DY 365, Bhuyan said, “They called the political leaders of the rival parties to their studio to discuss the polls. Therefore, instead of going to the field to meet the voters, they were busy discussing the polls in the AC studio.”
Bhuyan then went on to speak of another ‘akothyo’. He said, “Go and watch a comedy film but do not read Assamese newspapers. I am ashamed that I was once an editor of a newspaper.” Then they showed several clippings in newspapers like Pratidin and Aamar Asom which predicted a dismal performance of the Congress party. He adds, “As a journalist, I claim today that they are not acting as journalists but as middlemen. These are paid news items. The proprietors of these media houses are responsible for spreading false rumours.”
Then he referred to a show titled ‘Assam Decides’ which was aired on DY 365 which analysed and predicted the poll results. “One of the panelists had drafted the Vision document of the AGP. How could he give an unbiased analysis? We are not a channel of the Congress party. In fact, they are AGP and BJP,” Bhuyan screamed again.
Then Congress leaders Himanta Biswa Sarma and Rockybul Hussain and an intellectual Arun Goswami joined Bhuyan on the show. Interestingly, Sarma thanked the ‘three villains’ for their victory. He claimed that this consistent negative publicity of the Congress party inspired them to work harder and gain so many seats.
Sarma went on to add that the candidates knew that they would not win. But when they saw the media reports they became over-confident. “The BJP and AGP became so confident and stopped going to the grassroots,” he said. He lamented that due to the poor performance of a regional party like the AGP, a party like the AIUDF would now lead the opposition. Sarma also went on to say that there are two types of intellectuals in Assam – supporters of ULFA who patronize anarchy and those who want genuine progress. He scoffed at Mahanta’s allegations of tampering of the EVMs. “If the EVMs were defective, how did he win in Barhampur?” questioned Sarma.
At the end of this fascinating show came a set of resolutions. Sarma took a resolution, “On this News Live studio, I promise that I will never betray the trust of the people who reposed their faith on me.” Then Atanu Bhuyan said, “As Editor-in-chief of this channel, today, I resolve that News Live will play the role of an Opposition. But we will not attack individuals unlike Pratidin and DY 365.”
As a reaction to this show, an anchor in DY 365’s post-election analyses asserted, “We have been receiving threats after the poll results were announced. However, we will continue our crusade against corruption and misdeeds of the government. We will never act as a mouthpiece of the government.” With such post-election fireworks, one can expect more intriguing media wars in the future.
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