Budget 2012: Ranjona Banerji on how TV Channels fared with their Budget specials

17 Mar,2012

By Ranjona Banerji


Soon after India liberalised her economy, the late great Nani Palkhiwala, whose budget analysis speech would fill up Brabourne stadium, decided that there was no longer any need to discuss the budget. Yet in India, it is still a grand tamasha event and even more so, with the massive explosion of television. Before the TV days the best we had to contend with were the massive graphics on the front page of The Economic Times, with the “fin min” portrayed as some kind of super hero or failing that, a comic character.


(By the way, thank god they don’t call them fin mins any more or maybe Pranab Mukherjee threatened dire consequences.)


From early on Friday morning, all the channels were in a high state of excitement as they discussed what the budget could be, what they wanted it to be and so on. Despite the Economic Survey of the day before, no one had too many clues though everyone wanted reforms. Some business types even conceded that the poor and less fortunate needed help while the economists looked askance at the idea. This continued till 11 am when everyone had to switch to the feed from the Lok Sabha channel.


After that, it was a juggling act to get the best interpretation of the budget as it happened. I started with juggling between NDTV and NDTV Profit because the discussions headed by Prannoy Roy on one and Vikram Chandra on the other were interesting. But then they filled their screen with so much other information that I lost track of the “fin min” (oops).


So I surfed till I reached CNNIBN which had the cleanest screen of the lot. No millions of shares going up and down, no “insta analysis” from experts as provided by Times Now and no tweets from the general public. Suddenly however CNNIBN started running a little cartoon man with placards saying “cool”, “good idea”, “bad idea” to several budget proposals which became a tad distracting. When I started spending more time figuring out if the cartoon man’s moustache changed position as he changed placard from cool to bad idea, I realised CNNIBN was also a bad idea and shifted to the Lok Sabha channel.


I did surf through the business channels but not only were the screens cluttered with shares going up and down, they were also full of acronyms which I could not decipher. Seemed like maths class after some time – if you put the ELSS on the SME and divide it by the ECB you realise that the squaw on the hypotenuse is actually sleeping with the Big Chief. Or something like that but probably not as exciting.


The speech took two hours, after which the viewer was exhausted but the analysts were chomping at the bit to take off and expound. The economists and journalists all hated the budget while the industrialists, bankers, investment and money people did not think it was so bad. It was clear that the journalists and economists were deeply hurt that Air India had not been sold, petrol prices had not been increased to Rs 150 a litre and even worse, so much money had been given to NREGA, rural and urban health and education and so on. Others talked about how “inclusive growth” was necessary in a politically correct manner, except for one man on one of the business channels who talked about “socialist stuff… health and all this blah blah”. One can only hope no one he knows ever has need of “blah blah”.


As the evening progressed, Times Now looked at the politics of it and Headlines Today and NDTV went quite quickly into Sachin Tendulkar’s 100th century (glory be, at last, what a joyous day for Pranab Mukherjee). The business channels divided themselves us as some looked at property, others at investment and others at the stock market.


Interviews with Pranab Mukherjee were shown on NDTV with Prannoy Roy and TN Ninan, on Times Now with Arnab Goswami and Navika Kumar, on CNBC with Raghav Bahl and on CNNIBN through Lok Sabha TV with a young man who Rajdeep Sardesai told us was a TV18 staffer. Whatever. Mukherjee’s famous temper was on display only with Raghav Bahl when he told him quite categorically that he was not going to get into a “school debate” with him. For all the posturing that the experts did on the other channels about the budget and the deficit and so on, only Bahl asked the really tough questions. Not that it came to anything.


The verdict at the end: a choice between CNNIBN, NDTV for regular channels and Bloomberg and CNBC at the business end. The winner is possibly the remote, in that case.


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