Sevanti Ninan

Media Matters - Our daily scandal

A rash of scandals: A TV grab.  

Can we have fewer scandals and exposes on the news please? May be that's as silly as going into a restaurant and saying, can we not have something to eat please? But I mean it. Multiple exposes a day add up to an intolerably high cholesterol news diet, as damaging as it is addictive.

Now that corruption has been firmly installed as the agenda for the nation to debate between elections and cricket matches, real news is a scandal, man. Scan the morning paper, and you are off and running. The Hindu currently finds itself in the unusual position of giving the hunting pack on TV its daily meat. A Wikileaks cable a day gives you a half-filled plate to kick off with. Something to thunder about until your own hound brings in the day's kill. And it needn't be a daily offering either. Last weekend's Outlook cover will do just as well when it's broken something big. Unspoken rule for picking up from print: never mention the publication if you can help it.

Too good a thing?

It is difficult to argue in a land of many morally pliable people in various positions of power, that eternal vigilance is not a good thing. Or that barking dogs should shut up when thieves abound. But when you have more barking dogs than visible thieves, the cacophony can get a bit unnerving. I figured out some time ago that the best way to listen to Times Now and remain sane was from the next room. But every now and then the rising crescendo of voices makes me trot across to where the TV is despite myself.

Headlines Today has set itself a target of a scandal to bust a day but sometimes it averages three. Perhaps because its sister paper helps: it is a tabloid that needs its own daily scoop. (It may have broken another angle that morning on the Hasan Ali story.) Or because somebody helpfully commits suicide. Or a timid former aide somewhere decides to open his mouth. Or a rival channel breaks something you cannot ignore. The opposite also happens. The channel promises you a new scandal at 7.30 p.m. But at the appointed hour it goes off to interview Ricky Ponting. And the scandal slips off the menu for the rest of the evening. Rahul Kanwar meanwhile has an indefinable something which makes him an Arnab Goswami lite.

Exposes have a hierarchy of their own. Top of the pops these days is what The Hindu offers, with revelations which range from amazing American attempts at meddling to delicious peeks into the garrulity a visiting diplomat can induce in the Indian political class. Next comes what a reporter on the CBI beat may have been able to elicit on any one of a range of ongoing inquiries. Or what an Opposition leader has disclosed in an interview. Then there is the catch-up expose, a follow-up on what the next channel is doing. If there is a fraud pilot training school scandal you can hardly not jump onto the story. By the time the night bulletin comes around you can claim it was your exclusive. No channel hopper will remember where it originated anyway. When the government bestirs itself to act a day or two later, more than one channel will have its nightly Impact story. At the bottom of the pile is what India TV or Aaj Tak might offer on a lean day — looped footage of Narayan Rane letting an aide put his shoes on him after a temple visit. Lowbrow fodder for The Daily Shriek.

Distributed revelations

Exposes also exist in a circular, causal motion. After a string of four revelations about the UPA one will appear miraculously about the BJP that everybody will have to pick up on. And because it comes packaged as a scandal about the opposition's years in government, no TV inquisitor will think to ask what the UPA was doing about reclaiming the VSNL land in the last seven years. Rajdeep Sardesai finally did. And Kapil Sibal sounded remarkably lame in his response.

Where does the war in West Asia figure through all this scandal chasing? Such a useful filler to have around for a lean period.

News could be about what is happening to people around the country but it isn't. It could be about what is being said in parliament when the opposition is not on its feet. But it isn't. At the India Today Conclave, Arun Jaitley snubbed Mani Shankar Aiyar for trying to suggest that his speech on issues that affect the country's tribals should make news. There are plenty of fora to report that, he said witheringly: “Doordarshan, Lok Sabha TV…” When the session ended a Headlines Today anchor got up to indignantly take on Aiyar (which takes some doing). Why is the mainstream media being blamed for being mainstream, he wanted to know.

I would love to know what that means, actually. Being mainstream. Since it determines what excites the press and TV. Do little people make the grade? There was that small item somewhere about the NREGA beneficiary who hadn't received wages for a year. Would that have potential as a scandal, just may be?

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Printable version | Aug 6, 2021 3:29:14 AM |

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