Ranjona Banerji: Slick, peaceful Obama win coverage

08 Nov,2012

By Ranjona Banerji


I’m going out on a limb here. The spectacle of watching the results of the US presidential elections unfold on television is akin to watching a slickly made Hollywood movie. Whereas coverage of Indian election on Indian news channels feels more like being in the midst of a chaotic and cacophonous Bollywood film.

Stereotyping of the most superficial sort? Maybe.


Still, Wednesday was a fascinating day for a news-tracker. You could switch from CNN to BBC to Al Jazeera (also on Headlines Today) to CBS on Times Now to ABC on NDTV. Fox unfortunately was not available on the English news channels in India although according to Wednesday’s newspapers, they had a little drama of their own when the channel called the election for incumbent president Barack Obama and their star panellist former George W Bush aide Karl Rove objected. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/politics/sns-rt-us-usa-campaign-rovebre8a7011-20121107,0,2643102.story.)


For the rest, instead of the screaming matches filled with mudslinging and accusations that are characteristic of Indian TV panel discussions, we had interesting analysis and very polite dissensions. The best word I can use is professional, something Indian TV journalists are still a little short of. The first time I saw such coverage was as a political science student in Calcutta in 1980 when Ronald Reagan beat Jimmy Carter and the American Centre invited people to watch (as it still does presumably). As far as the media is concerned, election night is a well-oiled machine to which increments are added over the years but the core competency remains. This time around, thankfully, there were no holograms from CNN which are still better in the movies than they are in real life.




Of course, at some point, our star anchors had to jump into the fray and try and interpret the results for their loving, dedicated and presumably ultra dumb Indian fans. I watched only Rajdeep Sardesai on CNNIBN with the usual gaggle of Indian guests who can be called upon to comment on just about everything from nuclear disaster in Japan to attacks on women in Karnataka to well, the next US president and then of course Arnab Goswami on Times Now. Goswami surrounded himself with lots of American reporters who then repeated what we had heard all morning about the election. His piece de resistance was when he asked one reporter whether this result meant that Americans had become more patient. At this point my patience failed and I went away.




Indians can take solace from one thing though: the pundits and pollsters were as wrong about this election as they often are about Indian elections. Everyone apparently agreed that this would be a very close election with the winner – whoever it was – just squeaking ahead. As it turned out, Barack Obama took the crucial “swing” states quite early and once it was clear that he had taken Ohio, victory was certain. Apparently ABC called it first (since cable digitisation I don’t get NDTV any more!).
And after that, his victory was pretty emphatic.




It is also clear that if Indians want to be experts on the US election system they need to study it a little more…


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