Sevanti Ninan

Media Matters: The people multiplier

Was the “second freedom movement” enabled by television or mobilisation, or the man himself? The answer varied depending on which TV reporter or anchor you spoke to at the Ramlila Maidan.

“We've become Anna's PR agency,” smiled a young woman from an enthusiastic English news channel. Another reporter, who had stayed with covering the Lok Pal Bill movement in the months between the two fasts, said the India Against Corruption people had been doing steady mobilisation across the country in the interim, which enabled the momentum visible over the last two weeks, and that the strategic support solicited from spiritual leaders like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar early on, had certainly helped. Art of Living volunteers were visible across the maidan.

Simple appeal

However Ashutosh, managing editor of CNN IBN, said that he had spent 11 sweat-drenched hours on the grounds the previous day but the crowd never thinned during that period. Even when there was a heavy downpour. “Television can bring people; it cannot force them to sit there for hours.” It was Anna Hazare and his simple common sense that they were responding to — “television cannot make you bigger than you are. TV killed Ramdev because the basic honesty was missing. The moral fibre was not there.”

But even as he said that a man on the dais was bellowing into the mike, “media logon ne hamare andolan ko mazboot kar diya.” (Media people have strengthened our movement.) Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni had said tartly at the three-minister press conference after Hazare's arrest, “ Aaj ki andolan media ki dam per hi chal raha hai.” (This movement is running on media power.) But eight days on, from that moment, it wasn't that clear any more who needed whom more.

Outside the row of entrances to the Ramlila maidan were parked a long row of outdoor broadcasting vans for news channels all across the country: NewsLive and DY 365 from Assam, PTC news from Punjab, TV9 from Andhra Pradesh. OB vans are the jantantra multiplier. What they telecast puts pressure on the government, minute by minute. Facebook posts and tweets had their place as movement amplifiers and extenders (even Sri Sri Ravi Shankar tweeted after he visited Anna in jail) but TV news' decision to stay with this story and relegate all other news in the country to a scroll at the bottom of the screen, had, surely, helped to create mind space.

Using television

Knowing how to use television, having former Star News and Zee News people on the Anna team, his top lieutenants taking time out every day to visit channel studios (helpfully created on the edge of the maidan), a daily press conference at the maidan... all of this combined to foreground corruption as an issue that surpassed all others and produced the extraordinary spectacle of a government scrambling in response every time someone like Arvind Kejriwal upped the ante.

Despite the fact that their very own Doordarshan tried its darnedest to project that the government had the upper hand. If you ever saw a crowd shot on the public service broadcaster over the entire period, it was likely to be in Tripoli.

Leading lines

TV anchors in India have a touch more hubris than their counterparts elsewhere. Just reporting history in the making is banal, let us try and shape it. Zee News anchor and editor Punya Prasun Bajpai did an amazing soliloquy on the national flag from the Ramlila grounds on the morning that Anna Hazare finally agreed to emerge from jail. Was the tiranga becoming the symbol of Anna's sangharsh, he intoned. “ Tiranga lehrane ka matlab: sangharsh!”

On Times Now, Arnab Goswami outdid himself. First the hyping: “the greatest ever mass movement seen in a decade, and whether the government is responding as it should. Back in two minutes.” Then the hustling: “What I find absolutely astounding is the deep faith in the Standing Committee.” Then, the setting of deadlines. “Is the government going to initiate negotiations tomorrow?”

On day seven Rajdeep Sardesai decided CNN IBN should be part of the action. Breaking news: CNN IBN's own five-point formula to end the impasse. Later that night Karan Thapar was purveying one of those points on his show on the same channel: Should the government withdraw its bill?

When you've decided Anna's jang or battle is yours, you strategise accordingly. Aaj Tak was labelling the proceedings “Anna ka August Kranti,” harking back to Mahatma Gandhi's Quit India speech. You have to love the questions anchors were asking. Can we say we are witnessing a war, one of them asked his reporter? War requires soldiers. Aaj Tak was running a gallery of pictures of the army of reporters it was deploying. Over 50. Other battles from history or mythology were invoked. IBN 7 celebrated Kejriwal as Anna ka Arjun.

And there was always music when an anchor posed a dramatic question at the end of a segment and exited; rousing music, which would merge into the music of the Chavanprash Harry Potter ad or Air Tel's new anthem on friendship.

(This column was written on the morning of Wednesday, August 24.)

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 1:05:13 PM |

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