Headlines Today scores on 2G

03 Feb,2012

By Ranjona Banerji


The fault is mine: I got to the television two hours late on Thursday – after the Supreme Court ruling on the 2G licences. The punishment was purgatory: I knew something had happened but I had no idea what. Every TV news channel showed a press conference addressed by the BJP’s Arun Jaitley reacting to the court ruling but no one told us what the ruling was. I travelled up and down the channels that my cablewallah allows me and learnt nothing. Jaitley could have been ranting or talking sense but since I had no context I could not fully appreciate or understand him.


After 10 minutes of fruitless frustration I did the sensible thing: got online and read the latest updates by print journalists. Till Thursday evening, the whole thing was only about “reaction” on television, sometimes from small-time party functionaries and sometimes by bigwigs like Kapil Sibal who had to counter Jaitley with his own spin. One poor reporter even ran after the judge AK Ganguly as he retired and asked him how he felt. The honourable judge ran away as fast as he could. All through the day they broadcast a reaction from some telecom honcho but never told us who he was.


It says something about the way television journalists operate that they cannot explain events or interpret them for viewers themselves. Something as important as this 2G ruling requires reporters and anchors to get all the facts themselves and tell the viewers exactly what has happened before playing the “reaction” game. Also, instead of telecasting every single press conference live in its entirety, they could edit or cut back to studio to explain what was happening mid-way.


Business channels were, sadly, no better since they are all obsessed with the stock market and cannot consider implications beyond that. But one would imagine that the cancelling of 122 licences would have huge impact on their constituencies. I guess one imagines wrong.


The most sensible TV debate on the subject was a surprise – it was not at prime time and it was on Headlines Today. Thanks largely to Paranjoy Guha Thakurta as well as to Sandeep Bamzai, we got a clear idea of the economic and political implications of the judgment.


The rest of debates seem to have the usual suspects who talk about everything – Chandan Mitra, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Mahesh Jethamalani, Nirmala Seetharaman, Renuka Chowdhury and perhaps Suhel Seth was there somewhere but I didn’t catch him.


Niira Radia and Ratan Tata were not there.


* * *


This round once again goes to newspapers who explained the matter in every detail from the political implications for the UPA government to the business implications for the telcos to the fortunes of A Raja and P Chidambaram and so on. However, while every newspaper and TV channel said it was 122 licences, The Times of India decided on 121. No idea why.


Most newspaper editorials did raise the question of the unfairness meted out to telcos which were being punished for following government laws. This is a tricky one. It would be interesting to see whether there’s more discussion about the dangers of corporate lobbying and the role played by journalists in getting A Raja the ministry of his choice.


I’m not holding my breath, actually.


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