Saturday, December 25, 2010

Spokespersons at the Inquisitions, Cap in Hand

Spokespersons at the Inquisitions, Cap in Hand
Saeed Naqvi

The Burari session of the Congress, NDA rally, JPC-PAC sparring, onion and scams, are all building up to a lively election season beginning early next year – Tamilnadu, West Bengal, Kerala, Pondicherry, Assam, leading to UP elections in 2012 and the General Elections in 2014. And the media, not political parties, have snatched the initiative.

In no great democracy in the world have I seen two major political parties, ready with a battery of spokes persons, skating their way from channel to channel in mesmeric control of the anchor, whose job is to initiate a relentless tu-tu, main-main, a telegenic version of the traditional cockfight, described aptly by the poet:

“Udhar raqeeb, idhar hum byulaye jaate hain,
Ki daana daal key murghey laraye jaate hain.”
(Rivals from both sides invited and made to fight over a bait.)

Who gains? The political parties?

The gainers from these painful inquisitions are never the political parties. The only gainers are the channels who operate on the principle that louder the din, higher the TRPs.

If this, indeed, is the state of affairs why do political parties feed programming which is counter productive?

Supposing the Congress (or BJP) were to decide that it would not send its spokespersons, cap in hand, to the Anchor’s parlour, what would the party stand to lose?

The Nation, I am afraid, does not sit around prime time news shows as around an altar or a God. Lutyens Delhi and Malabar Hill do. We know all about the latter: the most vociferous breast beaters after 26/11, showed no interest in the subsequent elections!

In fact not only does the Congress (or the BJP) not stand to lose anything by their non appearance in the humiliating arena, the channels would suffer enormously. Will they proceed with the show minus the Congress (or the BJP) point of view, and thereby risk their declining credibility plummet further?

Supposing the parties have teams of researchers working on the day’s or the week’s press briefing on any subject ranging from the Scams, urban crime, onions or Nerega. Do the channels dare ignore these? For the parties, subsequent TV discussion would have the following merit: they, not the channels, will have set the agenda.

For example, there has been no national debate on the political or economic resolutions adopted at Burari. Or, for that matter, on foreign policy.

Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao lamented in Karan Thapar’s excellent interview, that the Nation requires a more informed debate on China. The transcript of this interview appeared in the Hindu. What we have at the moment is a surfeit of uninformed, negative attitudes on China shaped by the anchors who do not know their elbow from their knee on the subject.

Anchors are careful on the US and Ratan Tata. In fact Ratan Tata, touched on the raw in the Radia Tapes, chose to grant an interview to a channel of his choice.

It was said of the great Egyptian singer Umme Kulsum’s performances on Radio Cairo that even news broadcasts were delayed indefinitely when she was singing.

In Indian history, when Mikhail Gorbachev as Secretary General of Communist Party of the Soviet Union, granted the first ever interview in the Kremlin, Doordarshan played the interview in full, lasting one hour and twenty minutes. Doordarshan was a government channel. What better could we expect?

But the Tata interview was on a channel which carries the free market on its shoulders. It beat the Gorbachev interview in sheer duration by a long shot.

All I am saying is that the political parties must ask, when they send their bleating lambs in, not who will slaughter them but who owns the slaughterhouse?

Pardon my memory tossing up couplets with nagging frequency:

Mir Taqi Mir, whom some consider a greater poet than Ghalib, says:
“Kitni daaman gir hai yaro uski maqtal gah-e-wafa,
Us zalim ki tegh taley se ek gaya to do aaye!”
(How compelling the arena where she (or he) puts the faithful to the sword; just when one has been put away, two more queue up in the shadow of that sword)

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