Monday, April 11, 2011

Breaking Fast

So Indian TV watched Egypt, and decided Al Jazeera led a revolution, and wanted one for themselves. Meanwhile, the World Cup ended; the IPL had not yet started; nobody wrote a book this week attacking a national idol; but, fortuitously, a Gandhian activist was fasting in Delhi for relatively abstruse changes to draft legislation. Excellent, they exclaimed! We’ll televise a revolution, even if there isn’t one. As Sagarika Ghose on CNN-IBN asked: “Is Jantar Mantar going to become Tahrir Square?” before mumbling “ someone has asked,” showing impressive self-deprecation in not naming herself.

Look, TV channels are entitled to run whatever stories they want, even try to appropriate “movements”, as in “Citizens against Corruption — a CNN-IBN campaign.” It is far from certain, though, when they cross the line between chasing a story and finding one where there isn’t even a hint of it. Do a few hundred people in Jantar Mantar qualify as a revolution? In fact, anywhere, do we get a real sense of what the people-to-TV camera ratio is there? The pictures don’t deceive. But correspondents and anchors reaching for words to describe a moment they want to create come perilously close to doing so. IBN’s round-up was particularly worrying: Pallavi Ghosh informed us that “an Anna wave has swept the nation,” although the shots accompanying this were of the same few dozen at Jantar Mantar. Priyanka Gupta, in Kolkata, tried to claim a dozen people on Park Street were a lot for a city where a protest against out-of-tune Rabindrasangeet could get three lakh to the Maidan. Raksha Shetty in Mumbai stood next to a photogenic little group of well-heeled youngsters that she informed us was a crowd.

Arnab Goswami, on Times Now, pre-emptively struck against this allegation. He attacked an unsympathetic journalist on his show for implying that this was “just some television show going on.” Of course not, some superbly heeled young chap from Mumbai agreed: “This is not a media revolution... I am not a fool, I am an MBA graduate. I have left my posh job at an MNC to join this revolution. You can test my intelligence any way you want. I can tell you, this is a revolution of the people.” Please, nobody hire him for a marketing job.

Which brings us to the crass classism that has coloured TV’s debate and reporting. A random, superlatively heeled type in a Gandhi topi informed us on Times Now’s News-hour, angrily, that “these people are not like people at a political rally. They’re actually educated people, taking out their time.” Yes, agreed someone named Bharat Dabolkar, apparently a very busy actor: “Lots of professionals adjusted their daily schedule.” My, my, the revolution is totally upon us.

Newshour’s host seized upon this. “The groundswell is there!” he declaimed to the Nation. “This is spontaneous!” (Spontaneous = following appeals from a dozen news channels.) “These are not people turning up for 50 rupees and a bottle of liquor!”

The comfortable, contemptuous, self-congratulatory middle-classness of the coverage and TV’s chosen representatives of the protests were truly depressing. Meghnad Desai to Sardesai, shouting over chants of “Bharat Mata ki Jai” at Jantar Mantar: “The quality of our MPs is very low.” Right, perhaps we need a few peers, my lord. A panelist on Times Now, differentiating these rallies from others: “We pay taxes, it’s our money.” Chetan Bhagat, who otherwise managed to actually raise the quality of every debate he was in, and he was in them all, said one of the bills was like a “rubber stamp that you get at the airport”, inadvertently revealing that he lived the sort of life where you never saw rubber stamps except at airports. Swapan Dasgupta wryly declared that the crowd was diverse, “from all sections of the middle class.”

Neutrality, of course, was dumped by Times Now long ago, but CNN-IBN seemed to have decided to Times Now-ify itself, too, with Sagarika Ghose asking people to “fight”, and asking Anupam Kher, “Will you leave your comfortable life and sit with Anna?” (Kher replied, “People have to speak up”, which is certainly true on IBN, if you want to be heard above the anchors.) Ghose then asked Barun Mitra: “Why should you cast aspersions on the people’s movement?” Because you invited him on your show to do so, ma’am.

Really, if TV says so, it must be a revolution. All we need is Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Wait! Breaking news! Talat Aziz is reciting poetry on Times Now! Yes! It’s Faiz! The revolution is here!

Until the IPL, of course.