Monday, September 26, 2011

New Balaji show playing on News TV!

The continuing coverage of the “civil war” between Chidambaram and Pranab Mukherjee hogged prime time on news TV last night (again). Save and except for the better “sound effects” of drama that Balaji specializes in, the news channels were right there – giving Ekta Kapoor a run for her money! Sample this statement by one anchor: The drama is unfolding minute by minute gentlemen (this a few days after the issue first broke out!). There is a lot more to come! Another statement: We will not let this story die down gentlemen…..we’re back after a 2 minute break (Gentlemen?!)! Drama, drama, drama! Either this is a Balaji soap….or Prakash Jha’s Rajneeti……but it’s now on News TV!

The antagonist in this latest soap of course is Subramaniam Swamy who seems to relish keeping the 2G pot simmering! This time around, he’s presented a new document from the Finance Ministry which seems to suggest that the previous Finance Minister could have done more to stop spectrum from being given away free. It’s not Subramaniam Swamy who has unearthed this document. That was done by someone else – but it’s Subramaniam Swamy who’s the prima donna right now. There’s more to come, promises Swamy! And the news editors salivate!

It’s just a note written by a low level bureaucrat says the government. But it’s a note seen by the Finance Minister says the opposition. It was leaked by the Finance Minister. No, it was released by the PMO in response to the RTI application. No no….its not just any note. It’s an office memo. It’s a very very important note! Please…..dont lets call it a note; for god’s sakes, it’s a memo. And it’s surely not a letter! It’s not the Finance Minister it implicates – it’s the PM! Let’s get after the PM now! The news anchor is right – it’s indeed a story that’s unfolding on a minute by minute basis (gentlemen!). Except that it isn’t.

Competitive TV journalism makes TV channels make a mountain out of a molehill. But then that’s what news journalism is all about these days. A full hour was devoted to the subject on the letter/note/memo/scam/evidence/whatever. Pranab Mukherjee has said that Chidambaram is a pillar of the government and he is a value colleague. But that’s not important. That’s in fact downright boring. What’s important is that Pranab has not denied the letter! How interesting. How can he deny a letter than exists in physical form and shape? No, but he’s also not denying that he’s “seen” the letter. OK, so he’s seen the letter. So what?! There must be something……I don’t know what…..but there must be something! The Balaji scriptwriter is working overtime to create something. Soaps are so much easier to handle – kill a character; introduce a new one; fast forward a few uncomfortable things; slow down the dramatic scenes. In real life unfortunately, the main characters don’t always do the anchor’s bidding!

For eg., Chidambaram and Pranab Mukherjee are both saying that they wont issue any statements until the PM returns. But the PM is returning only on Wednesday. That’s 72 hours away from Monday morning. That’s 3 full day and 3 prime time nights to fill up? Why can’t the ministers issue something…..anything – that we can dissect and shred into pieces over these 72 hours?! TV channels have so much trouble keeping all their legal beavers busy. It’s not for no reason that lawyers are sometimes likened to the Piranha! What will all of them do, if Chidambaram and Pranab refuse to give new interviews?! It’s a tough job to be a news TV editor in chief, I say!

How much innovative content can a TV news editor provide after all? When Pranab Mukherjee apparently went to meet the PM in New York, he didn’t just go. He “rushed”! He “changed his itinerary”! He was “summoned”. He went for “damage control”! He “scrambled to defend himself”! You see….balance is very important here. If you say he was summoned, that shows the PM as being too strong for the news editor’s liking! So it can’t be used. Goes against the sponsors of the channel (the opposition?)! After all these days….money is everything. News is for sale….but hushhhhh…..let’s not get into that subject please. Let’s keep the camera pointing in the other direction please….! So, the PM did not “summon” Pranab. It has to be something else! Likewise, last night, Chidambaram and Pranab went to meet Sonia. Why did they go? Did she admonish them? Poor Sonia. She’s still recovering from her surgery. There must be something going on. Someone help the news channels please! Ahhh…’s an angle from this young “journalist”. Pranab arrived after Chidambaram left. That has to mean something! Attaboy young man….What a genius you are! By the way did we ever investigate what Sonia really went abroad for? She looked quite healthy in that little shot we got of hers in some car after she came back. Don’t think she went for any surgery at all…..or maybe, she did. The dissection of her Swiss bank account! That’s why Rahul also went! We must do this story some day!

And let me not forget ex bureaucrats! How can the ex Cabinet Secretary not add his two bits to the storyline? There are many more papers still to come out! I am telling you….this is not just another usual soap from Balaji. It’s a saga! We’ll have to wait for each and every single note, memo, letter, grrrr whatever….to come! It could take 13 weeks or 26 or maybe even 52 (it could even outlast KBC!) – the duration of a soap on entertainment TV usually being measured in weeks!

And yes, the Supreme Court! How can one forget the Supreme Court! It’s the “temple” of news TV soaps. Every Balaji soap has a temple scene – where the protagonist (the victim always!) goes seeking justice! It’s the same with our New TV soaps where every protagonist (politician) goes seeking justice to the Supreme Court! But just like the Gods never speak, out here….the judges of the Supreme Court never speak (at least on TV)! And just like God’s actions speak louder than their words……the pronouncements of the Supreme Court judges speak louder than their absent TV bites! God’s actions are often confusing…..ditto the SC’s!

Wait….there is some breaking news. Chidambaram has resigned! No no…Chidambaram has offered to resign….Poor Chidambaram, he was not that bad. It’s actually the PM who should have resigned. Wait….more breaking news….Chidambaram has not offered to resign (That damned phone line was so aweful…..must be the 2G scam!). What a shameful man. The least he could have done is resigned…..or at least offered to resign! Should he resign or should he not? Ahhh….that’s the question to ask Anna! Anna is two steps ahead of all news editors. He has already investigated everything and he’s already pronounced his verdict: If the Lokpal was there, Chidambaram would have been in jail by now! And the other rooms at Tihar would be getting dusted for the PM to come in next! And yes…..someone has to increase the capacity at Tihar. I tell you….the government is in a policy freeze….they can’t even decide who that contract should go to! Oh what did you say? They’re taking a pre-approval from the CAG? Right!

Isn’t news TV entertaining? Wonder why the government treats news channel as something more serious. Why is there even a 26% FDI cap on news TV – it should be removed! After all, there is no FDI cap on the General Entertainment Channels (GECs). Why do the Directors on the Board of a news broadcaster have to go through security checks by the Home Ministry? They are just like Directors of a movie or a GEC soap! They are just running an entertainment company! But wait…..if it’s an entertainment show, then there might be entertainment tax. No No….let’s not call ourselves an entertainment show! We are serious news!

And the soap continues every night. While the ladies are on the GECs, the “gentlemen” are watching the soap on news TV. Vir Sanghvi once wrote in his blog – news TV is actually news radio (no wonder the government thinks it doesn’t need to allow news to radio stations!). You can “listen” to news TV since its only non-stop yap yap yap; hardly any coverage from the field (that costs money!); In fact, Vir could have added that it is strictly news radio – only to be heard. Watching would make it a horror show! At least the GECs have a fair degree of fair skin on their shows….News TV??? It’s ghastly! It has grumpy fuddy duddies!

The real truth is that the Chidambaram-Pranab spat is just so much of drama. But in today’s competitive news TV space, its this kind of drama that works. The difference between news and entertainment (and horror!) is very limited. Earlier parents use to advise their young children to watch TV to learn a few things – now I guess they will have to stop doing that! The kids had better watch KBC!

No comments:

Post a Comment