Monday, May 13, 2013

Of speculations, scandals and elections

Channel surfer

Randeep Wadehra

As is its wont, Times Now came up with an “exclusive” that "revealed" the differences between the Indian Army top brass and the country’s politico-bureaucratic set up, particularly the China Study Group, regarding the response to the Chinese intrusion in Ladakh. The conversations and information, quoted in the news report, were attributed to unnamed sources. Now, this was not such a sensitive issue as to warrant protection of sources. In the absence of their authentic identification, the report can at best be described as hearsay and at worst a rumor. Nevertheless, even as the risk of dangerous fallout from the faceoff with China in Ladakh was receding, our news channels became busy with a surfeit of other urgent issues.

Pakistani convict Sanaulla Ranjay’s death at the PGI in Chandigarh cut short our media anchors’ pinpricking revelry that targeted Pakistani panelists on the Sarabjit murder issue. Channels shifted focus onto the Karnataka polls. Simultaneously, the railways bribery case erupted while the Supreme Court was issuing strictures on persons and institutions involved in the cover-up efforts vis-à-vis the coalmines swindle. However, NDTV's Barkha Dutt decided to have a special talk show on the human rights issues raised by Sanaulla's killing. On the same day, IBN7 too took up the issue in its primetime slot.

When Bansal and Ashwani resigned, the news channels’ reactions were on predictable lines. Quite a few of them appropriated the credit for this development. Of course, Times Now was the most forthright in this respect, linking “your channel’s” coverage of the ‘Railgate’ and the ‘Coalgate’ to the Friday's denouement. However, KC Singh on NDTV was most scathing. Normally, he is seen talking on international affairs and strategic issues, and one has seldom seen him using harsh words. But calling PM Manmohan Singh as “intellectually dishonest” was so unlike the KC we generally watch on TV. Nonetheless, he was bang on in his description of Bansal's kin as “co-opted bureaucracy.”

Actually, the array of lines and arrows looked impressive on the small screen. These were drawn to link the railways minister's kith and kin to each other and to various persons and interests – vested or not – in the ongoing bribery scandal. The minister PK Bansal's mug shot was placed right in the middle, just in case the viewers could not decipher the graphics’ import. Now, only Times Now can come up with such complicated graphics to simplify the explanation of persons and processes behind the so-called Railgate. Actually, suffixing "gate" to every scam looks so unimaginative and passé. Our media pundits need to be more creative in this respect. As for the “Coalgate”, one crisp and cryptic statement did far more damage to the politico-administrative establishment’s credibility than what all the high decibel talk shows could have collectively inflicted, viz., the CBI Chief Ranjit Sinha’s “The Supreme Court is right”, when asked for his reaction to the Court’s description of CBI as “caged parrot” having many masters.

The Karnataka election results kept various talk shows busy. However, after listening to assorted experts, it became difficult to conclude whether the BJP lost because of the "Yeddy" factor, internal dissensions, or plain bad governance. Nobody gave the Congress High Command any credit for the victory, despite the proclamations of assorted acolytes on different channels. Moreover, Rajdeep Sardesai's interview with a couple of Karnataka Congress leaders revealed the barely hidden fault lines within the party.

The historic Pakistan elections caught our media's attention belatedly. We watched Nawaaz Sharif talking of common cultural heritage of India and Pakistan, and the debonair Imran Khan promising the electorate all the goodies, apart from ridding Pakistan of the meddling Americans of course. Well, the Khan's sojourns in India apparently did not go waste. He has learnt quite a few tricks of the political trade. Overall, although belatedly, Indian news channels like Aaj Tak, IBN7 and NDTV 24X7 did a good job of covering the Pakistani elections. While the election reports were streaming in, Aaj Tak devoted its Saturday’s afternoon slot to spoofing Pak politicos in the show, Bura Na Mano Election Hain! However, reportage on the minorities’ perspectives was missing.

Published in The Financial World dated May 13, 2013

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