Ranjona Banerji: Non-stop Salman, as if everything else came to a standstill

12 May,2015

By Ranjona Banerji

 

For the Indian media, the shame of Nepal tweeting: Go Home after our shamelessly insensitive and jingoistic coverage of April’s earthquake was quickly put behind us. Salman Khan’s seemingly shameless behaviour was far more appealing and come on, this is a big Bollywood star how can we not cover him?

 

And that is undoubtedly true. Everything about the Salman Khan case was important and we got everything there was: the judgment, the sentence, the star, the fans, the tweets, the victims, the affected people… The question that remained however was: did we have to get quite so much of it? It was as if, on television at least, everything else came to a standstill. The only news was Salman Khan and his sentencing and then bail in a 2002 hit-and-run case.

 

However, some good did come of it. We realised (at least those who had been kidding themselves) how stupid Bollywood can sound when it speaks in one voice. We realised (those who pretended they did not know it) how much poor people are hated by the privileged in India. We saw how miserably accident victims and people who do not have access to lawyers are treated by the system.

 

We also saw that it is not correct to talk about cases no one wants to talk about. Like that Aston Martin accident on Peddar Road one dark night in Mumbai. Even when it happened, only a handful of newspapers carried it. The car belonged to the Ambani family you see. Nuff said, eh?

 

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We’re coming up to one year of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and media organisations are gearing up with their surveys and report cards. Some pro-Modi columnists have hit the ground running and decided that Modi’s first year would have been perfect if it wasn’t for people like Jawaharlal Nehru (died 1964), bureaucrats, Arun Jaitley, farmers and so on. There will be others more critical. The Economic Times I hear from the grapevine has planned some 20-odd pages. Talk about overkill…

 

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The coverage of results day of the UK general elections was a fascinating lesson in how we in India have developed our own unique Indian way of covering results. Of course, there is no question that an Indian general election is bigger in size and scale even if the number of seats to the Lok Sabha is less than those to the House of Commons.

 

But we have also managed to instil a wonderful dose of tamasha and gymnastic to our results coverage. There was something soothing I’ll admit about the BBC or CNN screens, with party seats scrolling at the bottom and informed discussions happening above. But what about our predilection for colourful graphics that burst all over the screen and our prancing anchors and our breathless reporters? Not to mention the countless studio guests all yelling at each other?

 

The closest to such drama one supposes comes during the US presidential elections when CNN has Princess Leia and R2D2 holograms all over the place.

 

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Meanwhile, and this is nothing to do with the media, the media has decided that British politicians give the best resignation speeches. And the media is right.

 

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