Ranjona Banerji: Boring & Silly Budget coverage

11 Jul,2014

By Ranjona Banerji

 

NDTV threw a party, Arnab Goswami gathered his friends and relations around him and Headlines Today showcased their owner Aroon Purie plus their newest star Shekhar Gupta. CNN-IBN and NewsX stuck to the usual format. Actually they all had the usual format but the first three tweaked it a bit while the last two made no such effort.

 

To listen to Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s first budget you had plenty of options. There was Lok Sabha TV with just the speech. Or there was every other channel which had the speech and 8 million boxes, pop ups, scrolls and anything else that a graphic designer on a bad acid trip could come up with.

 

As for the Budget itself, it soon became clear that this was a “Rs 100 crore” budget. It was also clear that I was finding it hard to stay awake. And more importantly, the stock market was less than enthused.

 

Many commentators on television felt that the budget was not so very different from the budgets presented by the UPA. Most UPA schemes – damned as populist sops at election time – were retained. TV news itself veered between its current cheerleader-for-the-Modi-government mode and some small vestiges of journalistic DNA which lead to small criticisms.

 

Corporate guests at TV studios have no option but to be sort of nice and positive, especially to a new government which they hope will help them. So it is unlikely that they will be objective. Some however were mildly critical. Politicians of opposition parties will of course be extremely critical, so nothing surprising there either. Politicians of parties who were once friends with the ruling party and may hope to be friends will toe the middle line – like the Biju Janata Dal.

 

At the end of all that, what do you get from watching endless television on a rather boring budget speech and a budget full of tiny details – millions of schemes which have been allocated Rs 100 crore each? You get rather boring budget coverage.

 

There is once again a need for the media to examine this manufactured hysteria about the annual budget of the Central government. Budget Day showed just how difficult it is to sustain coverage over an entire day and night. Most people are not interested in tweaks in various schemes and cannot understand the fine print of taxation policies. And as we know from budgets over the years, you really forget when you go out to buy bindis or bobby pins whether the 0.6 per cent cut in excise duty really made a difference to your monthly beauty budget or not.

 

Business papers obviously have a duty to their readers as do business channels. I did however find it a tad amusing that business channels which spend all day discussing the minutiae of stock market trends did not dedicate the whole of July 10 focused on the rather lacklustre stockmarket response.

 

**

 

Possibly the funniest front page is that of the Economic Times, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a footballer and Arun Jaitley in a supporting role. We have over the years seen some spectacular cartoons from ET as well as some really silly ones but this football-inspired front page perhaps tops the Super Silly list? The headline however hits the ground running: “Aiming for the goal, Modi hits the crossbar”. My guess is that they got the graphic done expecting the “Acche Din” budget but got stuck with this boring one so had to improvise with the headline.

 

Swaminathan S Aiyar’s front page analysis in ET was even more damning, headlined “A Chidambaram budget with saffron lipstick”. He gave it 4.5 on 10. Now that’s really rubbing salt into it.

 

In the Indian Express, Arnab Goswami’s go-to-guy for Modi Rah-rahs, Meghnad The Lord Desai, called this a “UPA budget from happier days”. A backhanded compliment or a sudden need to tell it like it is?

 

The opinions of Modi supporters from Columbia University are not yet in evidence, unless Arvind Panagriya and Jagdish Bhagwati were part of the Budget team? Firstpost.com was obviously complimentary though a bit upset about all the “sops” which the tax payer would have to pay for. The Wall Street Journal bloggers will soon make up the rest of the Modi’s economic support triumvirate.

 

**

 

There were glimmers in this Budget coverage though that sooner rather than later some in the media will drop their pompoms and get back to be being nasty and cynical.

 

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