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Hunting In A Pack

News channels hype up events that affect people who pay for their ads. The rest of India doesn’t exist.

Article Image Rape case opt

When I press the “guide” button on my set-top remote, “packs” are the first thing which appear on a scroll-down menu: the “entertainment” pack, the “movie” pack, and so on. One among these so-called packs is the “news” pack. It’s a pack alright, a pack of wolves. Vicious in its conduct, unforgiving in its method. A collection of a dozen or so news channels – some English, others Hindi, some claiming to take the high road, others proudly choosing not to – has transformed overnight into a pack of bloodthirsty wolves in search of TRPs and that chhutta that’ll keep them in business for a little bit longer.

Today, its transformation was complete.

A sense of outrage and sorrow that had enveloped the nation these past few days as it learnt of the horrendous details of the Delhi gang-rape and the hollow politician-speak, necessitated from our news channels a helpful release, a degree of balance and introspection so crucial in times of confusion and helplessness. Instead, what should have goaded a national catharsis of sorts became but a tool in the hands of all those who had earlier “handled” the Aarushi murder case and the Jessica Lal case and other such. I have little doubt that’s how they are looked upon under studio lights and behind tele-prompters: “events”.

The Indian viewer can now sense easily when his days are going to be turbulent and the coming nights sleepless – precisely when our news coverage shows the middle-class out on the streets. Everything about that unbelievably brave girl has been disclosed – where she’s from, where she works, who her parents are, how they feel – she’s even been condemned to lead the rest of her life as a “zinda laash”.

Anything else? “No, sir.” Right, then. Let’s use her as an “instrument”, let’s whip up some emotion, let’s make this an “event.” All for the greater good, of course. “Of course, sir.” Remember how we made Kejriwal and then un-made him, and then made him again? We are the Jantar-Mantar and India Gate specialists, we are!

The pack sensed it early in the morning. They sniffed and sniveled and tracked the scent of middle-class India – we, the people who watch their channels – all the way to India Gate and Raisina Hill. All through the day and on every news channel, there has been non-stop coverage of the events unfolding at these battlegrounds. Some channels decided to split the screen into three, apportioning camera 1, camera 2 and camera 3 to each column space, such was their fervour. Running battles with lathi-wielding police were voiced-over with breathless commentary, the camera zoomed in and out at a rolling teargas shell, the reporters ran after people holding their bloodied heads in their hands, their slippers strewn, their legs about to give way. These were the same people who watch the news channels daily. They watch the ads that make it possible to run these news channels. We are these people. You – the reader, and me – the writer.

The other 800 million who live on Rs 20 a day, don’t watch these channels. They don’t know what Seagram’s CDs & Cassettes means, where is Malaysia Truly Asia, when is the next Shopper’s Stop sale. They de-silt the manholes, wash dishes at the highway dhabas, till the earth. They pray for monsoon not Bisleri, they want cooking oil not Oil of Olay. And so the channels don’t have any stories about them, for them, by them.

It is “our” channel, but not theirs.

We the people are in reality, we the English-speaking, Hindi-understanding, middle-class people. We are a constituency for these news channels. We are not a constituency for the politicians who run this country.

It’s a game we have unwittingly become a party to. We, the people are now an estranged people. The news is for us. We make the news.

As water cannons drench the middle-class India, and gas-induced tears roll down her cheeks, the other India that no one bothers about, no one writes about, no one listens to – that India cries, too. But there are no 10-hour specials to cover this India’s suicides, this India’s helplessness and hopelessness, this India’s death and misery. There’s nothing for the hungry pack in the jungles of Orissa and the coalmines of Bihar. The pound of flesh is where the purchasing power is.

Unspeakable ills and irredeemable demons reside in middle-class India. We the people know it, and yet we don’t want to be reminded of it. We also know that we don’t elect the leaders who run this country. The other India elects them. They are not our leaders. Our leaders are the virtuous news anchors, who protect and cover us – for we pay their salaries.

Our politicians are not a true reflection of us, our news anchors are. They have okayed our blinkered existence with a stamp of approval. They decide what we see and hear. They monitor closely our angst, they regulate it.

P Sainath – “who?” – once wrote a book about the other India. Everyone Loves a Good Drought. The pack of wolves that hunts for a riot, a skirmish, a pitch-battle, so it can be stretched to a whole day, with sufficient number of ad-breaks, that pack of wolves doesn’t love a good drought. That pack of wolves never read Sainath’s book. It wasn’t prescribed in Journalism 101.

Shyam Benegal once made a beautiful film called Manthan. Half a million farmers donated Rs 2 each so the film could be made. The film described the struggle and ultimate deliverance of the poor farmers of Gujarat who contributed their hard-earned money towards its making. In a way, the film represented those who paid for it.

The news channels describe only those events that affect the people who pay for it, through the ads that appear in these channels. 800 million people don’t and so they don’t exist. The BBC covers the whole of Britain, its stories big or small, extensive or breaking, concern the length and breadth of the country. Why? Because every Britisher pays to keep the organisation running, they all have a stake in it. As with Manthan, what is covered is what people paid for.

The coverage has shifted entirely from the rape case and the condition of the girl, to the protesters who were tear-gassed and lathi-charged. Every few minutes a new voice is sought, a fresh face thrust in front of the camera. “English? English?!” shout the reporters from the English news channels in search for those among the crowd who can speak English, as though selling their wares at a railway platform.

One can’t help but wonder if only our news channels had highlighted the unspeakable daily horrors faced by the other India, sensitised us and our politicians to them with as much zeal, made their problems our own, perhaps then the brazen state indifference we are witnessing today wouldn’t have come to pass. But the notion of one India remains a dream, and just as a neta guards his constituency, so do the news channels.

It’s so easy for a man who earns two Ahluwalias a day (one Ahluwalia equals Rs 16) to come onto the street and protest. But miraculously he doesn’t. He runs from pillar to post, from one interstate bus terminus to another, he runs to earn those Ahluwalias, he runs and runs and then he can’t run any longer and exhausted he collapses, on a railway platform or a bus shelter or on the steps of a public urinal. In choosing his final resting place, he has done the pack a favour – he hasn’t come onto the street, he hasn’t showed up on Raisina Hill, he hasn’t dared to become middle-class.

You have lost the moral right to cover sensitive stories of sexual assaults against women. You have lost the moral right to cover the whole of India.

As channels allow its reporters stationed at India Gate a welcome breather and slip into a break, a pokerfaced Om Puri fills the screen. It’s a cement ad.

“Ye hai ubharta hua Bharat,” he asks, “iski guarantee kaun leta hai?”

Kaun lega is ubhartay hue Bharat ki guarantee? Kaun?!

anand

 

 

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  • Ashok Jahnavi Prasad

    We have learned to expect quality and erudite analysis from Anand and this piece is yet another instance! I was pondering over the very question for days;having blasted the politicians and the police in a few of my recent pieces I was wondering why was it that I was still unable to convince myself that all the private channels are actually sincere in their antipathy towards corruption and injustice! And I guess I got the answer today-was perusing CNN-IBN’s Person of the Year Award programme and who do I find seated in the prime row as the guest of honour-a person we all know who with his brand of shysterism and chicanery coupled with cheapness represents everything rotten about the system-Amar Singh!That made me sad but did answer the question!

  • MKN

    Very well said Anand.
    But i also wonder that with the kind of news anchors we have at large, can they do justice with ‘serious’ news stories. I wonder which class these news anchors belong to. They neither represent (or understand) the traditional ‘east’ nor the scientific ‘west’. Such intellectual hollowness is never seen before in ‘intellectual’ circles of india.

  • Anil

    Bloody , brilliant article ! Spot on !

  • ramesh

    Perhaps not entirely related, the article reminded me of the title of Edward Behr’s book ” Anyone Here Been Raped and Speaks English?”

  • Manish

    Factual ERROR on BBC example -

    TV licensing is paid by people who OWN/WATCH live in United Kingdom. So, effectively, it is not from common budget but an exclusive fund collected as ‘TV Licensing Fee’. To be precise, if you watch a colour TV, you pay £145.50/year, if you watch a B&W tv, you pay £49/year.
    So, by fee logic, there is a GROUP of people (middle-class) in UK.

    1) It is different story that in UK, this middle class is 70%-80% of population (one paying license fee), and thus appropriate BBC coverage.
    2) Having said point-1, article was about ‘pack of channels’. On same scale, BBC is in NO way only channel group in UK. There are many more private channels, who are not restricted to show it.

    Indian media, being trashed in the article is mere reflection of society. I INDEED find it better than yesteryear. At least, problems are not being highlighted for same of the viewers who can be ‘taught’ and ‘reasoned’ better than power elite or poor side liners of the nation.

    TRP is the VERY nature of private media. for once, it is better than last decades when it was merely propaganda machinery of various private/political groups. Middle class is a holder now too.

    Raising questions is fine, but the one being focused in your article shouldn’t be a candidate at this point.

    I want change, I know ‘logic’ is must. But, feeding to a class which can be ‘feed’ next level of quality soon is better.
    Give it time, things will change for good.

    Regards,
    Manish

    • Anand Ranganathan

      Thanks, Manish, for your comment (and everyone else too). Just a brief note: When I wrote re the bbc: “Because every Britisher pays to keep the organisation running,” I meant through the license fee, of course – sorry should have made it clearer. And in fact, there’s the fantastic thing: if the UK government wanted, it could have run the BBC just like Doordarshan, i.e. set aside tax payer’s money for it, but it chose not too, for the simple reason that it would have turned into another DD – little more than a propaganda machine. Somehow, when people pay directly for something, there’s more transparency, and they have more of a stake in it (we’d need a psychologist to explain that to us why!). Secondly, when you say that the indian media is a reflection of society, isn’t that what i write, too – “Our politicians are not a true reflection of us, our news anchors are.” You are an optimist, manish, and for that i congratulate you (:)) but i honestly feel that we shouldn’t compare our present media to DD of yore, but rather, the comparison should be made with the best channels of the world, one among which – purely a personal opinion – is the BBC and has been ever since i can remember, both tv and radio.

  • Roark

    Bang On….there is no editorial sensibilities in news….advertisers rule it..and they are not even ashamed of it…no one is bothered about the rape as an issue..because than they may have to send there reporters to manipur or some other far off state..and then how will they attract the people of Delhi??….so better to make all the protests on India Gate a 24 hour long event….
    pathetic state of affairs…!!!

  • anil vasudevan

    Agree with the write up. We need a similar outbusts t

    o reign in the media, as displayed by us against the unfotunate unpardonable incident in the capital. Media has become voyuerstic. Can we leave the family alone. How can we make the media realize their fallacies?We need a critical mass to do so!

  • Kunthit

    This author cannot be reached, not at least directly, at “anandvardhan@gmail.com”.

  • http://twitter.com/archbist arch bist

    This is so true. This incident has been highlighted because it is an “us” problem as opposed to other sundry issues and problems that happen in the ‘other’ india. This is probably the reason why the politicians ignore such protests because they know very well that it is an urban middle class centered issue while most of their vote bank rests elsewhere. Even while we, the English speaking professionals take to the streets we should look within and ask ourselves how we treat our house- helps (most of us have one) and whether we can identity with her problems.

  • adesh seth

    Most enjoyable!