Of 25-year-old TV journos and their half-baked ideas

07 Sep,2011

Ranjona Banerji

 

This week was a roller coaster as far as news was concerned. It started with the continuing aftermath of the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement, with members of what has so trendily been named Team Anna felt they were being targeted by the government  for saying nasty things about MPs, for being exposed in a sting operation and for not paying their income tax.

But soon Amar Singh, discredited and beleaguered, had his moment in the sun as he was hoisted off to join his political friends in Tihar jail for his role in the cash-for-votes scam where BJP MPs walked into Parliament waving bundles of money, claiming they had been bribed by the UPA. But one more horrific bomb blast on Wednesday morning, this time outside the Delhi High Court, meant that TV attention moved away from Singh. TV attention is a bit like the eye of Sauron in Lord of the Rings. While it is on you, you burn under its gaze but when it goes away, you can scurry into Mordor and do what you want. It may be advisable for Indian TV news channels to get eyes like a housefly instead which looks everywhere.

Since the Delhi police and India’s one zillion other investigating agencies had no clue about who was behind the blasts, TV reporters have to be commended for coming up with their own theories within 10 minutes. Why waste time reporting on the events when you can hold forth like an expert, pretending that you know what you are talking about? After all, no one in your studio is going to stop you, question you or, shock, horror, cut you off.

I realize that youth must be worshipped in India today but there is something disconcerting about inexperienced 25-year-olds running around with mikes and cameras, bombarding us with their half-baked ideas. (My advice for young journalists: spend the first five years with your mouth shut, learning! Radical, eh?)

It would perhaps be more sensible if TV news channels in India tried to first report and then speculate. It seems incredible that that they go back to the same experts over and again in spite of no one having any clue about who has actually done what. One would have thought that the embarrassment of every expert blaming some Islamic group of the other for the Norway attacks would have been lesson enough, but clearly, no. The evening shows with the star anchors were full of former police commissioners and general celebrity experts holding forth. The amount of hot air released in TV studios could be used as a form of renewable energy once fossil fuels disappear.

Most language news channels switched from their normal combination of astrology and Bollywood to cover the blasts but some like Sahara Mumbai were happy with their comedy corner. The ticker at the bottom kept us informed of events. Guess you have to keep laughing, no matter what.

Business news channels are rarely if ever distracted from the stock markets and sometimes even major global monetary policy changes in which politics is involved, pass them by.

International channels airing in India like Al Jazeera, BBC World and CNN are all gearing up to the 10th anniversary of the September 9 attacks on the USA. The rest of the while they keep us informed about what’s happening in Syria, Sudan and such like places that are too far away for Indian news channels to acknowledge.

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The newspapers had it easier. Early in the week, they focused of course on Amar Singh’s arrest and his fall from grace. The Telegraph, Calcutta (it does not use Kolkata) also talked about him being a Calcutta boy. The prime minister’s trip to Bangladesh also got space, with fans and detractors of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her refusal to agree to the water-sharing agreements with Bangladesh having their say. The boxing bout between Mayawati and Julian Assange also front-paged, including with the Hindu which of course printed the Wikileaks revelations in India.

The Reserve Bank of India asking banks to allow borrowers to pay back floating home loans without penalty got second billing in Mumbai, perhaps understandably. The Hindustan Times called the BJP to task over protection to the Reddy brothers in Karnataka in a hard-hitting editorial.

The Times of India did an analysis of three versions of the Lokpal bill on its edit page and seemed to agree the most with Aruna Roy and the NCPRI’s version. This is a break surely from Times Now’s vociferous championing of Anna Hazare’s version and no other.

Mid-Day launched its new look on Tuesday, with bolder lines, less clutter and better use of pictures. It also reintroduced its edit page.

By Thursday, the bomb blasts were everywhere with legitimate rage over the fact that the authorities neither had improved intelligence nor security measures in place. It is easier to read these arguments than to decipher what several guests shouting at the same time are trying to say.

By Friday, Praful Patel’s defence of a CAC report slamming the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines and the acquisition of several aircraft took the headlines. The probe into the Delhi blasts is veering between Harkat-e-Jihad-al Islami and Indian Mujahideen, both of whom have claimed they did it.

The Times of India chose not to front-page LK Advani’s announcement of an anti-corruption yatra and his impassioned speech in Parliament, while Hindustan Times made it the second lead, focusing on the fact that Advani took his own party by surprise. The gist of the newspaper angle seems to be one more political drama, while TV milked what they could from it before moving on.

The brewing revolt in the tennis world between the top players and the International Tennis Federation over rain problems at the US Open also got play.

International media is mainly looking at the tenth anniversary of 9/11, stories of victims and heroes and some new chilling tapes of voices from one of the planes which crashed into the World Trade Centre. Irfan Husain in The Dawn has an excellent piece debunking all the 9/11 conspiracy theories. A threat to New York on the anniversary is being taken seriously, making ample effort not to spread panic.

It seems likely that 9/11 will dominate over the weekend although it will be interesting to see if the BJP is taken seriously in this new effort to regain political centrestage.

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