Shailesh Kapoor: When News Rose to the Occasion. Almost.

01 Sep,2017

 

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

It’s been a busy week for the news media. Last Friday, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was convicted for rape, which triggered off violence in parts of North India, keeping the media on their toes. His sentence was announced on Monday, so the story had a life of at least five days, including a build-up day before the conviction. Five days for a story is a rarity in today’s times. Following up, Tuesday saw a shift to the coverage of the Mumbai rains, a story which continued over two days.

 

The Gurmeet story was surprisingly well-handled by the media. Several media houses known for their open support to the BJP Government took a clear stand against the Haryana Government headed by Manohar Lal Khattar for the violence that erupted on Friday. That some mediapersons and their property was damaged channeled more rage into the reporting.

 

A string of stories over the last few weeks have forced the clearly right-aligned mediahouses to take a stand against their grain. It happened with the Gorakhpur deaths, where the Yogi Adityanath Government was attacked, though the man himself was handled with kid gloves. It happened with more force in Khattar’s case, and now, Mumbai’s corporation (BMC) has been attacked wholeheartedly for the rains mess-up. It seems that on issues related to the ‘common man’, the rules of engagement are different vis-à-vis policy issues, such as demonetization, for which we saw some rather unflattering results being announced by the RBI two days ago, but only selective criticism.

 

The Mumbai rains coverage, however, had a strong sense of déjà vu. From July 26, 2005, when the big rains story happened, there have been these smaller versions every 2-3 years, though this 2017 version would clearly rank no. 2 on that list, behind 2015. The narrative is consistently one-track every time: Attack BMC, question why the city that pays the most tax has is subjected to such poor governance, speak to citizens on the road, use shots of flooded roads and submerged vehicles on loop, flash helpline numbers, etc.

 

While there’s nothing wrong in this line of coverage, there’s nothing particularly exciting about it either. The real rains story should happen in the intervening period between two such disasters. It’s the kind of topic where the media needs to keep the pressure constantly on, over an extended period of time, such as five years, to see visible change on ground. But we all know that in today’s times, the story will be forgotten within a week.

 

A two-day coverage in two years does no real damage to any corrupt politician or corporator. They would be largely immune to it by now, and may even be laughing such coverage off, given that it seems driven by the media’s frustration for not being able to make any real impact in the first place. And I found it especially amusing when a journalist doing the story repeatedly called herself “a part of the ordinary middle class.”

 

But with all its issues, news on Indian television was more watchable this last week than it is for most part of the year.

 

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