Media fails to veil its bias at Sena rally

BY Geeta Seshu| IN Regional Media | 19/10/2010
The Shiv Sena’s annual rally at Shivaji Park saw the English newspapers playing into the hands of Thackeray as they `roared’, `slammed’ and `passionately hit out’ to his tune.
A high decibel delivery from the ageing tiger has set the war drums beating again, reports GEETA SESHU
There was a lot of interest in the Shiv Sena’s annual Dussehra rally this year – brought about by the buzz that the Thackeray family’s youngest male member and grandson of Bal Thackeray, Aditya – would be formally inducted into the party’s newly formed youth wing. A cursory reading of the reportage of the rally in various English newspapers makes one wonder if the journalists attended five separate rallies, so markedly different was the language used to describe it.
Three newspapers – The Times of India (TOI), the Hindustan Times (HT) and the Daily News and Analysis (DNA) preferred to lead with the story – with a picture of the anointing of Aditya – complete with handing over of the sword as he knelt before a seated grandfather. The Indian Express (IE) preferred a sedate single-column photo of the youth brandishing his sword in its news briefs while the Mumbai Mirror (MM) carried the same picture with reports on inside pages.
The headlines set the tone revealing the treatment that was to follow. They ranged from the combative ‘Thackeray dares HC, slams Mistry, Raj, Nehru’ (TOI), the straight-forward ‘Third generation joins Sena show’ (HT) and ‘Bal Thackeray launches Aditya’ (IE), the gleeful ‘Vintage Thackeray launches grandson, tears into nephew’ (DNA), and the cheeky ‘Decibels mean nothing as tigers, cub roar at rally’ (MM). It was referring to the permission granted to the party for holding the rally at Shivaji Park, despite noise pollution restrictions.
Predictably, Thackeray attacked defectors, including errant nephew and political foe, Raj Thackeray, former Sena leader and current NCP minister Narayan Rane, the Nehru-Gandhi family and of course, Congress leader Sonia. As expected, he also expressed his views on the recent controversy over the withdrawal of Rohinton Mistry’s book, Such a long journey, from the curriculum of Mumbai Unviersity at the behest of Aditya and the Bharatiya Vidyarthi Sena.
So far, so good. All the newspapers covered these utterances in their reports. But the journalists had their own pet terminology, using words that actually revealed their inherent biases. Their use of language and descriptions also conspired to leave out or water down some of the more blunt utterances, and one wonders if this amounts to self-censorship of an unpleasant comment to ‘protect’ the Sena leader from any possible reaction.
For Ambarish Mishra, writing in the Times of India, the Sena chief didn’t deliver his speech, he ‘roared’ his “25-minute speech peppered with trademark jibes and one-liners that were lapped up by the Sainiks”. Mishra’s report is also peppered with typically aggressive language. Thackeray ‘slammed’ the Congress-led government in the state; he ‘hit out’ at the UPA government and ‘hit out’ at estranged nephew and “made a ‘passionate’ plea to his followers to ‘bless’ the fourth-generation of Thackeray in public life”.
For Santosh Andhale (DNA), the Sena chief could do no wrong. His opening lines state: ‘He flouted decibel norms, tore into rivals across the political spectrum and launched the new Thackeray on the block with aplomb. Acidic and entertaining, it was vintage Bal Thackeray at the Shiv Sena’s Dussehra rally....” The reporter also decided the speech lasted 45-minutes, ‘laced with acerbic reference to Raj’. In another report in the inside pages, written with Alok Deshpande, the two decided that Thackeray ‘took on his political rivals with that rare blend of wit and sarcasm only he can dish out’.
Sayli Udas Manikkar, writing in the Hindustan Times, was more circumspect, preferring to use terms like ‘the octogenarian addressed the Dussehra rally after two years’ and ‘said’ or ‘appealed’ or asked’, save for the time when ‘Thackeray took pot-shots at everyone’. The newspaper helpfully carried a box-item of the Senaspeak – all the quotes which are undoubtedly a trademark of Bal Thackeray’s speeches – taking them out of the regular news report and highlighting them as verbatim quotes. This was a far better ploy than integrating it with the regular news-reports in the hagiographic manner of other newspapers.
Mercifully, the Indian Express reporter (an Express News Service report without any by-line) merely informed us that the Sena chief: “speaking for almost 45 minutes, one of his longest speeches in recent years, denied that he promoted dynastic politics in the Sena. He supported Aditya Thackeray’s successful agitation in getting the Mumbai University to withdraw Rohinton Mistry’s book from the syllabus ‘as it contained expletives’. 
The HT box on the Sena chief’s quote on the Mistry book: “Rohinton Mistry’s book doesn’t deserve to be in the syllabus considering the bad language used in it. Can it be taught as part of the syllabus? The current college lot is so clever that it can teach the faculty better bad words.’’
Richly ironical, as Thackeray’s speeches contain enough ‘bad’ words to burn anyone’s ears. Sumedha Raikar, writing in the Mumbai Mirror in a piece headlined ‘Venue: Shivaji Park, Mission: Resurrection’, actually tells us what the octogenarian tiger roared, spoke, hit out and whatnot....
“Word play, unparliamentary usages, below-the-belt jokes, sloganeering, lots of Congress and MNS-bashing” - that’s what the speech was all about! And more, according to her report: “Using the choicest of epithets from his of-late under-used lexicon – bhadve, namard, napunsak, chaatu, bootpushe, saale, to name a few – Thackeray, senior said, “what’s wrong in banning a book that has bad words and is part of the university syllabus.”
Ah! This is the Thackeray we are all familiar with - The politician with arguably the foulest tongue in Indian politics. The man who used such foul language that embarrassed women left election meetings! Thackeray, the report said, ‘used every sobriquet (pavata for Narayan Rane, stylechor for Raj Thackeray, eunuch for Congressmen including Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, l**de for Muslims’, Chidambaram’s falling lungi or Sonia Gandhi: former hostess in an Italian hotel that Rajiv Gandhi fell for).
Years ago, when the Sena was a stronger party than it is today, journalists discussed the importance of accurate reportage of the Sena leader’s speeches and press conferences. Often, journalists who were critical of the Shiv Sena or even a little more ‘objective’ in reporting the party, were shut up by their own colleagues at press conferences, before they could even ask inconvenient questions. Journalists tried to avoid using terms like ‘supremo’ that were routinely used to describe the Shiv Sena leader.
As the party’s fortunes waned, news reports on the party also achieved some semblance of distance. Clearly, as reportage of yesterday’s rally demonstrated, all it takes is a high-decibel roar from the ageing tiger, coupled with the promise of a cub-in-waiting for the beating of those war drums in print.
Shiv Sena
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