Prince in the Pi(libhi)t and other poll-time maladies

BY Padmaja Shaw| IN Media Practice | 04/04/2009
Anchors should record their own shows, analyse them interruption by interruption, trivial question by trivial question and see if there’s some real news they can add to beef it up,
suggests PADMAJA SHAW.

One thought that this was a different election. An election, post-Mumbai floods and post-Kasab, that would see a responsible and vibrant media leading us into an era of enlightened politics. There was some talk of a large number of educated middle class entering politics and also mobilising voters.


Of course, our dear TV anchors lined up the educated middle class politicians early in the season to tell them that they can’t win (that’s what ‘people’ are supposed to be saying), and went on to merrily chase familiar prey.


On the day the Congress Party released its manifesto, some reporter at the press conference asked the PM something about Advani. There was not a word about the manifesto on any news bulletin thereafter. The news programmes led with the ‘unusually combative Manmohan’. This is followed by a rash of stopping bucks, big fights and facing the nations, all in the company of Ravi Shankar Prasad, Sudhindra Kulkarni, Jayanti Natarajan and Kapil Sibal, and the like.


No sooner than this subsided, as BJP was gearing up to talk of development and governance, Varun Gandhi’s famous last words (?) on how a certain community needs to be dealt with hit the channels. The networks gave it the ‘Prince treatment’ (how the little fellow was rescued from a bore well pit).  When did he say it, how did he say it, did he say it or not, no he must have said it, if he did say it, does BJP endorse it, will he be a candidate, should he be arrested, oh why is he arrested, is he in danger, oh why is he moved to safety ….. ad nauseum, again all in the company of Ravi Shankar Prasad, Sudhindra Kulkarni, Jayanti Natarajan and Kapil Sibal etc., so much so that the animal-protecting mother of the Prince of Pilibhit lamented that her dear boy (who incidentally called for chopping up people) was being lynched. A vexed Mani Shankar Aiyer blurted out that he came to the programme expecting to speak about Panchayat Raj and not about Varun Gandhi… In the melee, it is the BJP which got ample mileage to give a considered justification for its politics of the trishul under the benign and fair gaze of the anchors.


So a good number of people I know have sworn off the total insanity of news programmes. Just skip the stuff and you will be rewarded. If you tune in post-news, you may catch a documentary 24/7 which may tell you what’s happening in the real India in "Unacceptable India", or a special on rich politicians. You may see the heart-warming story of a Palestinian beauty queen, or a chirpy reporter taking you through a constituency.


Like in Doordarshan days, if you want authentic news about India, check BBC out. At least you won’t be treated to Munnabhai footage whenever Sanju Baba is mentioned, or the same Sanju Baba challenging the Law Minister of India as the lead. Whatever happened to the old fashioned editorial judgement about source credibility? Can the bite from the Law Minister be intercut with the bites from a convicted individual out on bail? BTW, what was that all about, as in, of what use is it to the viewer/voter?


If you like some calm election analysis, without Ravi Shankar Prasad, Sudhindra Kulkarni, Jayanti Natarajan and Kapil Sibal, tune in to Lok Sabha TV where senior journalists and academicians give you a good overview of political trends in the states one at a time, every day. Not opinion polls … assuming that one wants to understand the issues and factors at play and leave prediction to astrologers.


Interestingly, it is the same cacophony in regional channels too. In Andhra Pradesh, where assembly elections are also going to be held, there has been a brazen display of lumpen politics across the board. There is an unseemly scramble to get tickets and all the parties are welcoming the floating turn-coats devoid ideology and public morality. The channels gleefully and regularly bring to the viewers ‘leaders’ with dubious backgrounds from all parties launching violent mobs to attack each other and their own offices if denied tickets or positions. Each channel is owned by a loyalist and aggressively shows the misdemeanours and rifts in the other party. The independents and the educated who have filed the nominations have no chance of getting media exposure, as arson and mayhem is not part of their election strategy. One will not be surprised if the voter turn out is at an all time low in Andhra Pradesh, considering the viciousness of the campaigns. If there are any sane voices in the whole process, those are of the chief election officer and the few election watch groups.


We do not know what the world would be like five years from now. There is a great media bazaar in India that could play a positive role in the electoral process if it chooses to. It is a great opportunity to bring serious and relevant news to the voter and to help choose good leaders. However, the reality is, news channels are blinded by greed and self-aggrandisement. They are no longer capable of identifying what matters to the electorate. The worthies making these news decisions are also on the self-regulation bodies, quite sure of their ‘news formula’ and unfazed about public disgust. The channels are insisting on killing the goose that lays golden eggs, considering the fact that news is the fastest growing genre in Indian TV market. Perhaps, the public’s faith in the channels is misplaced and we must move on to find our news elsewhere. There are a lot of sane sources around and many a viewer would confess that they have already made the shift to these sources.


In their own interest, one only wishes that the anchors record their own shows, analyse them interruption by interruption, trivial question by trivial question and see if there’s some real news they can add to ‘beef it up’ (with due apologies to animal protectors).

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