Yesterday’s SP-BSP scuffle was shameful to say the least. If it hadn’t taken place in the place where it did take place – the temple of democracy as it were – it would have been almost funny watching two old ruffians battle it out in a dog fight with hundreds others watching on. But what was funny though (and shameful) was the media’s take on the subject. While the anchor of Scam TV (the channel that has positioned itself purely on scams – whether they exist or don’t) called this a Congress ploy (as he is solidly anti-Congress), the TOI – the one to turn to to get fair news – has surprisingly called it a lucky escape for the BJP (“SP-BSP spat gets BJP out of tricky situation”! Fascinating isn’t it?!
The anchor of Scam TV said it was a Congress ploy since it wanted desperately to deflect attention away from Coalgate. Sounds logical, except that this is fundamentally a bizarre concept. The SP has been hurling massive accusations against the Congress over coal and has been relentless in its demands for a judicial inquiry – something the Congress is not keen to give in to. The SP’s soundbytes on coal can hardly be comforting for the Congress. But for the anchor of Scam TV, there has to be some angle in every development. If there isn’t an obvious one, then one must be created! After all, how do you spice up an evening prime time show if you show the same footage as everyone else is showing? Now if only Scam TV could learn from Balaji and develop appropriate sound effects to go with his “aaahhs” and “hmmmnns”!
This same anchor had displayed exemplary creativity when he had roared on his show a few months back that the fire at Mantralaya was a conspiracy to destroy the Adarsh documents. When the CM of the state clarified that most documents were already protected through electronic copies, that simply wasn’t enough for him. The CM cannot be trusted! There had to be an angle. Some angle! Please! When news came that enough copies existed with the CBI already, and with various other government disappointed, he was terribly disappointed. He determinedly dragged the conspiracy theory on for several days. Until one day, he looked like a fool peddling a story that no other media outlet was even bothering to report.
But to be fair, this anchor is hardly the only anchor to practice such tricks. On a different channel last night, Najma Heptullah – forever Congress and now BJP MP – gave yet another spin to pin down the Congress! As per her, the Congress played a trick on the nation by introducing the bill “without notice” or some such words. Basically, again to deflect the BJP’s attacks on it for coal. Guess she wasn’t in the all party meeting on Aug 21st (a full 2 weeks back) when her party supported the reservation policy!
The TOI on the other hand has interestingly said that it helped the BJP that the SP-BSP spat happened in Parliament. It allowed the party not to appear like it was blocking the chances of the dalits by disallowing Parliament from functioning over the coal issue. Now, it can just wash its hands off saying “We wanted Parliament to take up the bill, but what can we do” kind of thing! Convenient. God only knows if it is true or not though it certainly looks more credible.
But the larger picture that emerges is that looking for skeletons where none exists has perhaps become a habit with Indian media. Coming as they do from positions of extreme insecurity, they are perpetually trying to reassure themselves that they are “independent”. What better way to show that than by attacking “the powerful”. Attacks on the ruling party are thus understandable. Being aggressive in talk shows. No….being downright rude with politicians is also considered to be a show of one’s independence. It’s sending out a statement that “I am not intimidated by you”. Cutting into a minister’s reply is considered to be a sign of the anchor being a toughie who won’t allow his platform to be used by “the corrupt”. Who do these people think they are? Its my job to bring them to book is the refrain. Anchors in the past have had no qualms about – in fact I suspect they enjoy the status – being chided for acting as the Lokpal. Yes, they are all Lokpals in their studios. They levy accusations, present the evidence, preside over the hearings, and also rule on the matter. This is India’s “independent” media!
None of them bothers to spend time doing research. My favorite anchor on Scam TV is happy to put up panelists who oppose all forms of electricity generation – nuclear, thermal and hydro. It’s no concern to this anchor that without any of these, India will be reduced to a sub Saharan 4th world country. None of these anchors knows enough economics to understand the concept of “time value of money” but then why blame the anchors – even the CAG forgot about this in his coal report! None of them finds any fault with those who oppose fuel price hikes (all kinds – petrol, diesel, everything) on the one hand, but accuse the government of fiscal profligacy on the other hand. None of them have the guts to take on the really terrible elements of our political firmament – the ultra radicalists, ultra communalists, ultra conservatives (on economic issues), ultra obstructionists and ultra opportunists. All that they do is play up unsubstantiated attacks on the ruling class. Has any of them challenged Sushma Swaraj on her “mota maal” comment? What has she got to prove that? Isn’t she exploiting the media to get her voice across? Has anyone bothered to analyze whether the SC should or should not enter the policy domain and start canceling licenses? Has anyone analyzed Anna’s JLP and brought out what a terrible piece of legislation that was. No. All of them just want to “be with the masses” in the hope that that will bring them the numbers and the TRPs.
The real truth is that more than the SP and the BSP, it is our media that needs to introspect. The political parties may be responsible for only physical vandalism, but the media – at times – may be held responsible for spreading intellectual vandalism. This just has to stop. Media has to become more responsible….It has enormous powers in its hands and with that must come enormous responsibility….