The media and the SRK-Sena clash

BY Seema Kamdar| IN Media Practice | 26/02/2010
There is a school of thought that believes that the media has given the Sena its second coming through its over-the-top coverage of the SRK episode.
SEEMA KAMDAR looks back at the deluge of coverage the confrontation evoked.

Ever since the SRK-Sena confrontation ended in a whimper, the media has been looking lost. It is scouting hard but such a potent mix of Bollywood and rabble-rousing politics cannot be handy every day.  So, we have IPL, the Budget, naxalism and crime, in one eclectic clutter on the air and in print.


There is a school of thought that believes that the media has given the Sena its second coming through its over-the-top coverage of the SRK episode. SRK emerged triumphant over a sectarian, communal, and fascist ideology. But has the media come out tops, smelling of roses? 


In yet another graphic illustration of how an overwhelmingly populist mindset can dumb down journalism so as to render it senseless, the media-both print and electronic- has shown itself to be totally lacking in perspective, depth or even proportion.


For almost a week, one had no option but to drown in the deluge of the SRK-Shiv Sena duel on television channels and in newspapers as if it were the life-changing event of the century. We got minute-by-minute and blow-by blow accounts of how many Sainiks had been rounded up, what Uddhav said, what SRK tweeted last, an analysis of his tweets, an analysis of Uddhav, exclusive interviews with SRK where anchors such as Barkha Dutt were virtually falling off their chairs in their eagerness to please him, and exclusive interviews with Uddhav where outraged anchors would hilariously position themselves as the custodian of all that is holy and free.


The way the media went on and on about the issue with such a hungry greed, grand declarations of bravery, and shrill protestations of an assault on their 'freedom' (!), anybody would think a Mumbaikar's right to move freely was under threat. During all the hullabaloo, not one of us can claim we were scared. So, what's the fuss all about?


One can’t blame some people for getting carried away by this drivel and flashing ‘V’ signs for greedy cameras after triumphantly buying a ticket at a multiplex along with homilies about their fight for freedom. Much like they would after winding up a war for the country.


Even when we got the full blast of the media blitzkrieg for the virtuous Khan, all we got were his tweets, his protestations of injured innocence, and anchors drooling over his courageous stand to stick to his opinion which was of such potent national importance. After deciding resolutely to blow up the issue out of all proportion, the media could have added some depth. It could have been a little more realistic about Khan’s contributions to humanity, which when we restrict the discussion to this case, are limited to entertaining. If his statements about Pakistan had to be taken seriously, they should then have been analysed a little more carefully considering that there is at least  a sizeable constituency of Indians who were appalled and hurt by his empathy for Pakistani cricketers if not surprised that he had the gall to speak after not taking any of them in his own IPL team. Don’t these people matter? Whatever happened to balanced coverage?


Nobody wondered, for instance, what Khan would say to the families of policemen who died in 26/11.  "C’mon, we have a great neighbour in Pakistan and let’s separate cricket from politics."? Terror makes a mockery of these intellectual distinctions. When one bleeds to death, sport and politics, among other sections of our lives, get inevitably knocked out in one breath, Mr Khan. 


To be sure, the issue merited front page as it was a titanic clash of two mega personalities on an issue that concerned everyone. But the treatment it got belied its worth. It mattered little that other crises of national proportions were crying out for attention. Such as six farmers dying on one single day in Vidarbha, such as 14,059 villages in Vidarbha alone being declared drought-hit, such as the furious debate over Bt brinjal.


Come to think of it, how much does media cover issues that affect the common man? The furore over Bt brinjal, a vegetable found routinely on every dining table, was mostly limited to editorials, and that, I suspect, when there was an empty slot. Those who wanted to educate themselves about the pros and cons of the matter have no choice but to google and surf. There was no campaign of the scale or magnitude of SRK versus Sena that told us, not in passing but in detail, about the ill-effects of Bt cotton, the standpoint of the chief ministers, activists, farmers. What we got instead was an overdose of Jairam Ramesh on every channel and every page wherever the issue got any exposure, even if he said something ambiguous to the effect that some chief ministers were opposed to it but some others were in favour of it.


It is said that people have a short memory. But can the media afford to have selective amnesia? In its overweening and inexplicable anxiety to whip up a frenzy over Rahul and paint him as Mumbai’s messiah in white who travels by a local, the media forgot to remind its patrons of a critical detail. According to a report in a Delhi-based daily which has not been denied, Mumbai’s new-found benefactor was partying hard with his friend Samir Sharma,  son of  Congressman Satish Sharma, at Radhemohan farmhouse outside Delhi city, after the terror attacks on 26/11 began and became public knowledge. When Mumbai was burning, the prince was playing hard, probably because there was no camera in sight.


Coming back to the Sena-SRK story, even the Sena had declared it had not officially opposed the film. There is a difference. In the past, the party has officially pronounced war on objects of its ire such as the Pakistani cricket team in 1991, during which time  it damaged the Wankhede cricket pitch leading to the cancellation of the tour; or Valentine’s Day revelry, to name just two. In this case, Uddhav said on TV channels that there was no call to boycott or oppose the film, or "Shahrukhji" for that matter, and the party was leaving it to the Sainiks. The party’s mouthpiece, ‘Saamna’, too played up the confusion by giving out contradictory messages. It was apparent that Uddhav himself did not agree with his father on this score. Which means the Sainiks were confused and that the hugely demoralised party may therefore not have been in a position to make any impact. This interpretation was entirely missing from the saturation coverage in most papers.


Had the media been honest to its profession, the Sena would not have got the political resurrection it got from the sorry episode, the end result notwithstanding.


In this gradual freeing of the fourth estate from its symbiotic role as the champion of the masses, the post-modern press increasingly aims to titillate and leaves small spaces for old-world practices such as an informed debate or even an educated guess.  


The net loser, sigh, is the citizen, and, at large, the country.



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