Channels go to town with Anna's fight against corruption

All those who pined for a revolution of their own as they watched Egyptians bring down their dictator in February, might have, for a moment, had their wishes come true last week when television channels prematurely anointed Delhi's iconic Jantar Mantar as “our very own Tahrir square”.

And why not? A “people's revolution” was brewing, screamed enthusiastic TV anchors, gushing commentators, puffed-up socialites-turned-sociologists and field reporters. No space for dissent here. A revolution it had to be.

Panel discussions were held (the kind where you either agree or are asked to grow some ‘public spirit'), television montages were revamped and production teams worked round the clock to outdo each other. Take your pick: patriotic poetry or Bollywood music that jolts you out of ‘cynical slumber' into joining whatever square, circle or patch the ‘India Against Corruption' team had chosen, in advance, for your city. Even as slick packaging and hyper-coverage created an instant icon out of the fasting Gandhian Anna Hazare (a Hindi news channel even crowned him Mahatma-reincarnate), what stared us in our face, with minute-by-minute updates, was this.

As noble an intention as it is to unmask the spectre of corruption, the television narrative was far from nuanced. Not one among the protesters spoke of the many other forms of corruption — of power, class or State — and no one pointed out the limitations of a movement of this sort (some did in retrospect).

The uniformity in the treatment of the event, across channels, was disconcerting, alarming even. Here was an opportunity for this medium to overcome its limitations (given the sheer amount of airtime the event got), but it appeared in no mood to debate, inform/educate on the Bill or engage with larger issues. By extension, the hyper-coverage, while it mirrored the justified frustration of a large section, denied viewers the space to engage critically with what is a deeply emotional issue for many who are losing patience with the system. Soon TV channels were claiming the revolution — some in bits (or bytes) — was entirely their own “campaign”.

Slipping often into reality-TV mode, tracking the government's offers, the aam-aadmi's swelling anger and, of course, Anna's falling weight (his ‘dwindling-weight-but-soaring-spirit'), all ‘broken' here on TV. A kilo down, a ‘common man' of the ‘just returned from the U.S. last year' techie variety asked: “Will you let Anna die?” They played that a lot.

Come dusk, enter the candles; that romantic symbol of neo-protests. Angry protesters, seen shouting slogans (sometimes ‘Mera Bharat Mahan' and ‘Inquilab zindabad' at other times) morphed into a mellow, hopeful lot. “Diverse” interviews captured all sections of the middle class (as one commentator puts it): an executive, a housewife who once visited London, a surgeon whose patients are waiting patiently, and a child whose T-shirt read ‘I will grow up and become your boss'. To the camera, this made for as profound a statement as any. As profound as Dhoni's sixer that won us the ICC World Cup.

Oh, yes cricket. Remember, not so long ago, India won the World Cup. Slotted precisely between that and the IPL, Anna's “revolution” did manage to steal Dhoni's thunder. But at the heart of India lies Cricket. That the fast ended when it did spared us the burden of a difficult TV choice, between the two C's some believe has come to define our times — corruption and cricket.

Keywords: corruption


Couch Potato March 9, 2011