Ranjona Banerji: Same guests, diff’rent channels

09 May,2013

By Ranjona Banerji

 

From the morning onwards on Wednesday, it was the Karnataka election results which dominated news television. This meant all the big guns were out and firing much earlier than normal because we all love a good election. Plus, there were panels of election experts, print journalists and that wonderful class that we specialise in – people who are experts in everything.

 

All the experts gave us their expertise – including said one early on in the counting that the Congress was not going to make it to even 110 seats so it was time to concentrate on the other smaller parties. The Congress refused to cooperate with the gentleman and stopped at 121, a bit beyond the required majority. The experts and big guns also kept telling us dimwits that it was too early to say anything substantial (you know now that I am old; if I was young I would have said “substantive”) which begs the question: then why say anything at all?

 

Of the lot, Arnab Goswami of Times Now had the most fun and as the day progressed, he pranced around like an excited puppy dog so thrilled with his new toy bone. Rahul Kanwal of Headlines Today looked and acted serious as is his new wont. And Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN-IBN searched longingly for some gravitas. I don’t get NDTV but I understand that Prannoy Roy was on air and changed his tune as the results tuned in, but this is hearsay. Incidentally, halfway through the results programming, all the channels decided that the election was about the fact that their pre-poll polls had got it right. Sweet, isn’t it?

 

I fail to understand why news television insists on having politicians as guests on discussions at times like this because they are bound to say what they are bound to say. Introspection blah blah, victory yaay yaay. Endless strings of clich̩s РKarnataka is not Delhi, the states are not the Centre, the Earth is not the Moon and so on. Anyway, the Congress evidently decided that the man who knows more words than Samuel Johnson, Mirriam, Webster and Roget combined should do all the talking. Manish Tiwari thus came and bombasted everyone off the stage.

 

As the day progressed, the focus shifted from Karnataka and the poor showing by the BJP to the Supreme Court spanking the government over the coal allocation scam and the captivity of the CBI. Some big guns changed – Sagorika Ghose replaced Sardesai on CNN-IBN – and others stayed. Goswami was sounding hoarse by the time the night ended. Of course, Karnataka did not go away either. Intriguingly, almost every TV channel had exactly the same guests on at exactly the same time – or so it seemed to me. It was like watching one of those reruns of the X Files which are currently on air: spooky and corny.

 

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Most newspapers divided their front pages between the Supreme Court admonitions and the Karnataka elections. Editorials had stern warnings for all politicians and analysts are still figuring out whether it was caste (Lingayats versus the rest), corruption or general voter cussedness. All were agreed however that the Narendra Modi versus Rajiv Gandhi contest was not like a rerun of WWE.

 

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The Times of India’s Mumbai edition has been what Twitter calls an “#EpicFail” when it comes to covering the ongoing strike by shopkeepers and retailers over the newly imposed local body tax. Mumbaikars are struggling with grocers shut all week and the vegetable market and transporters threatening to follow. At best, we get a meagre quarter page. This is unusual for a newspaper which believes in carpet-bombing. Mid-Day has been excellent on this and Hindustan Times had been quite good too.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator based in Mumbai. She is also Contributing Editor, MxMIndia. She can be reached via Twitter at @ranjona

 

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