Monday, May 20, 2013

Sense and sensationalism

Channel surfer

Randeep Wadehra

Traditionally, we have treated news TV as a source of information. People expect news editors to discriminate between what matters to media houses and what should actually matter to the nation at large. This twin pressure of maintaining healthy bottom lines and keeping credibility intact in the public eye does strange things to the form and content of TV news. Thus, national news channels provide primetime slots to something that is actually a local incident, deserving a few seconds in ‘speed news’ or ‘news briefs’ slots. Perhaps, one cannot blame the media. They have to attract and retain eyeballs. This is where sensationalism comes in.

Last week, various news channels showed a male police cop repeatedly slapping a young woman in a Ghaziabad police station. Her fault? She was, allegedly, singing in her room after downing a peg or two. News channels put it on primetime headlines. Times Now went further and held a full-fledged discussion, with Arnab Goswami firing away uncomfortable questions at the UP Police’s ADGP, and the invited panelists from human rights and women’s rights organizations providing supporting fire. The cop did not know what hit him; he had come prepared to croon the usual bureaucratese. However, by the time they were through with him, he was reduced to a confused warbler. However, did this incident require a primetime discussion on a national TV channel, when the media had already given it appropriate treatment? I am sure, this would have continued for a couple of days more if other “sensational” events had not cropped up.

Like Sanjay Dutt’s “surrender” to the TADA Court on Friday – an exclusive privilege of VIPs in India. An ordinary mortal would have been unceremoniously arrested and thrown behind the bars – on mere suspicion of a misdemeanor. However, the Bollywood star’s arrest was preceded by unprecedented media hype – as if a great event of national importance was coming up. The enthralled viewers watched Dutt’s acolytes and “friends” telling the gullible what “a great human being” the cine star is! Wow, martyrdom redefined! But, as so often happens with all things Bollywoodian, cricket has to make its presence felt as a rival, or a companion, even when lime light gives way to searchlights. This time, however, the much maligned police’s searchlights caught some of the cricket stars crossing red lines in the ongoing IPL tamasha. The most prominent being Sreesanth, who was once the spearhead of Indian cricket teams; he was hoping to make a comeback for the forthcoming tour to South Africa. For a change, the Delhi cops were sporting the “good guys” tag on news channels. The Delhi Police Chief, Neeraj Kumar, on Zee News as well as CNN-IBN, provided several details of the match fixing scandal and how his force’s special cell unearthed it.

Our talk show pundits are loath to miss such sensational developments. Every channel had a group of experts clucking their tongues; Rajiv Shukla’s straight-faced “height of greed” denunciation of the “three idiots” was itself the height of straightfacedness – to coin a term. Despite Karan Thapar’s best efforts on Devil’s Advocate (CNN-IBN), the BCCI honcho Srinivasan would not say anything more substantial than calling the three RR cricketers as “bad eggs”. But panelists on other talk shows assiduously dug up old scandals and tossed around tainted famous names like googly bowlers. Talking of googlies, there was Lalit Modi’s deadpan declaration on BBC that illegal betting stakes in IPL matches have reached as high as one billion pounds “per game” and not “per season”. Arun Lal on NDTV Hindi blamed it all on black money, and argued that if the government can legalize betting on horse races why not on cricket too? Nevertheless, others were uncomfortable with the idea. Still others alluded to the “ugly nexus” among politicians, police and the underworld (read D Company) that has helped betting syndicates take a throttlehold on the game of cricket, which has attained the “status of religion” in the subcontinent. Well, every religion has its share of apostates. So, what is so sensational about cricket having some? After all various protestant movements against the mother religion, Test Cricket, have already created rival sects in the form of ODIs and T20s. Does “Kerry Packer” ring a bell? He had sent alarm bells ringing in the 1970s cricket establishment. Now, that was real sensational stuff!

Published in The FinancialWorld dated May 20, 2013

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