Business journalism on TV in India is yet to develop a vocabulary and presentation that are easily accessible to everyone…
Who's afraid of the Union Budget? Not the experts and anchors on television. The aplomb with which they dish out acronyms or flash allocation figures as big as telephone numbers on the screen would lead you to think that Indians cut their teeth on tax manuals and sectoral spending statistics. But some of us didn't, so one could have been forgiven for assuming that all that talk about DTC was referring to Delhi's bus service. Turns out that it stands for the Direct Tax Code. And what is that? You are supposed to know because through an entire programme on Doordarshan nobody explained, they merely talked knowledgeably about fiscal consolidation and the aligning of personal tax with corporate tax. Switch to the next channel where somebody equally earnest was holding forth on fiscal correction. If there is plain English for any of this you are unlikely to get it on TV. It doesn't occur to either the expert or the interlocutor to explain.
If there is one thing business journalism on TV is not, it's journalism. Whom are these programmes meant for? The liberals on the English news channels want to focus on social sector spending, they are not into ‘corporate wish lists', a phrase that the Shireens of this world love to mouth. So what do they do? Reeled off visual statistics on how many seven digit rupee numbers were allocated for what and what happened to those allocations. (Not much.) Pankaj Pachauri's Money Mantra on NDTV Profit put some of these thousands-of-crores statistics on the screen for us to digest. That was supposed to make us wiser on whether the government was doing as much as it was supposed to about roads, electricity, water, irrigation, etc. I can think of a few non-statistical ways of getting the picture across but it would take more doing than dishing out facts and figures sitting in a studio. The other social sector warrior was an unfazed Sagarika Ghose wading into budget talk because it was the season for doing so and again reeling off statistics. To explain, you have to know more.
But you can know more and still be unable to explain. The experts on another show had little ability to communicate what they knew. One of them referred to the Laffer Curve. Huh? Does one now sit in front of the idiot box armed with a dictionary of economic terms and Google? Sometimes though, it does occur to someone that they are not using everyday terms. So Omkar Goswami will lean forward and explain to the camera in a breathless mouthful what GST is, before turning back to his gobbledygook club. On the next channel someone was interviewing Yashwant Sinha on the same topic, and the term went unexplained. Not a former finance minister's job to spell out or explain acronyms. But it is for the interviewer to remember that there is an audience out there.
Budgets presumably are about people's lives. Lives that are affected by prices, taxes, subsidies, inflation. And people come in more categories than Aam Aadmi and CEOs. Put some flesh and blood into it, guys.
As people were being gunned down in Libya, there began, unsurprisingly, an Avaaz (http://www.avaaz.org/en/)campaign. Most of us are familiar with web petitions. But a campaign site that can notch up signatures in the million plus range deserves to be taken seriously. Besides, it not only channels civic pressure from across the world to governments, United Nations bodies and others, it also channels donations. Right now it wants people to donate to get blackout-proof communications equipment and support teams to its trusted partners and front-line activists across West Asia.
They have some 7.2 million members across the world who seem to believe that their protests push governments to action. The site puts on its homepage a quote from Gordon Brown which says that Avaaz has driven forward the idealism of the world. They pick their causes through all-member polls. Last year's poll prioritised climate change and environment as their foremost issue of concern. Successes are described as those campaigns which in 2008 got China to restart the dialogue with the Dalai Lama, got the Ugandan government in 2010 to defer introduction of a proposed law that would sentence gay Ugandans to death, and the one mounted in 2009 against torture in Guantanamo Bay.
Avaaz has a Wikileaks-like global citizen approach. It campaigns in 14 languages and has a core team on four continents apart from thousands of volunteers. The essential difference between them and others seems to be that it is not a campaign built on an issue. It is a permanent campaign infrastructure, always available to be mobilised over the Internet. Their self-description is creative: they claim to function sometimes like a fire truck and sometimes like a stem cell. “We focus on tripping point moments of crisis and opportunity.”
Correction: In response to last fortnight's column which said Al Jazeera English had projected a different picture of Omar Suleiman compared to CNN, CNN points out that they did air an interview with author and Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind where he talks about Omar Suleiman's record on torture and killing in Egypt. And that cnn.com also carried Suskind's views on this topic.