Sunday, April 21, 2013

Stop Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha TV channels….and disruptions will stop

Hamid Ansari, Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, made a failed attempt yesterday at getting the opposition parties to let the house function. He suggested that those members who disrupted the House would be debarred from entering the House. If this was done, the entire BJP (and several other parties) would keep getting debarred all the time. Why would they agree to such a move? Why would they want their members debarred? Besides, a house that doesn’t function is good for the opposition because it stops the Government from achieving its agenda. A Government that fails in its agenda can be expected to fail at the hustings as well. It works to the opposition’s advantage if the Houses don’t function. Hamid Ansari can still succeed in his efforts – if he just realized one more truth about our Parliamentarians.

The truth is that there is another reason why opposition MPs disrupt the Houses so often. It is the presence of the TV cameras mounted inside the houses which serve absolutely no purpose, except allowing opposition MPs to grandstand. And we know just how much our politicians love TV cameras! Take them out, and there is no motivation left for them to disrupt the House. No longer will they be able to impress anyone (their “following”???) with their “ideological blockage” of Parliament. Equally, no longer will they be worried that their chief opponent will be able to do so too. This will ensure that Parliament functions.

I think I read this wonderful post on Facebook or twitter (am unable to trace it) or in the papers yesterday. “In the earlier days, OB vans and TV cameras would rush to the site of a protest event. Now, protesters rush to where the OB vans and cameras are”! This pretty much sums up the reality of the situation. Since our politicians are a mere reflection of society, they are driven by the same urge that drives the protesters (or at least the leaders of those protests) outside.

What good are those cameras doing anyways? I doubt if anyone – anyone at all – watches those two channels. I don’t have TRP data readily available, but I can bet my last buck that no one watches them. Except of course for political activists, political enthusiasts, political rabble-rousers, the Parliamentarians themselves and of course, the political journalists. It’s the political journalists that I am most worried about. They “amplify” what happens inside the Houses (and I like I said, no one has watched those proceedings yet), and bring those images to millions of people. The fact is that both the LS TV and RS TV are catering largely to the outside media. They are like pipelines from inside the Houses to the outside world.

If this is supposed to be an exercise in furtherance of our democracy, and to satisfy the needs and rights of society to know what happens inside our “temples of democracy”, then like I said, it’s already failed. No one is watching these channels. The Government has merely become a vendor of TV footage, lapped up by private channels for free. And what do these private channels do with the footage? Trained and focused on “increasing TRPs”, they cleverly edit the footage, and use only those sensationalized portions that can be played and re-played a thousand times to attrack viewers who have at least a modicum of interest in political affairs. It’s true. Most Indian news TV channels have learnt from Ekta Kapoor – repeating the same footage ad nauseum with sound effects to boot! None of these TV journalists has any interest in the truth, or in showing the (usually less sensational) entire footage. Losing the context is the whole purpose of editing. Taking a sound byte out of context is what adds the juice. Editing is the core value addition they bring to the footage they get. That’s the creativity in the news business!

Want evidence that our Houses would work better without cameras? Well, just compare how the Houses work (full of disruptions) with the Standing Committees (shorn of the glamour provided by TV cameras). In most cases, Standing Committees meet regularly and work without disruptions. Members of all parties add value, un-afraid of taking positions that they believe in rather than those they are forced to take in public. For example, the BJP was forced to support Anna’s demands for a Lokpal Bill which would include within it, the provisions for Lok Ayuktas as well. That was for public consumption. But inside the Standing Committees, the BJP demanded that the Lok Ayuktas be left out of the Lokpal Act. Now imagine if the Standing Committees also had been covered by TV cameras; would the BJP have allowed any such discussion to happen at all? Remember also, that a logjam helps the opposition. What would be the motivation for the BJP to try and find a resolution to the contentious points?

Want evidence that the LS and RS TV channels cater largely to only a few “activist” variety? Ask who were the most prolific demanders of TV broadcasts of their meetings and discussions with the Government? Yes, Team Anna. For Team Anna, TV cameras were the fuel on which their movement ran. See the disarray the movement finds itself in (in fact, I don’t even know if it exists any longer. Where is Anna?) now that media has moved away onto other more juicy things? Team Anna anyways took a hardline stand on all issues. Imagine, if the TV cameras had been there, what would have happened? They would probably have converted the proceedings into the daily 9pm farce (they call it debates don’t they?!) that have become the biggest identity of the Indian TV news industry!

The real truth is that House disruptions are entirely on account of grandstanding. Take that opportunity away and the opposition leaders will settle down. It’s not about throttling their voice….but their voice should be heard more inside than outside. All MPs want to become celebrities. Take that opportunity away and they will be forced to “serve” rather than grandstand!

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