When media is the news

‘These polls are turning out to be great for our channel’: We know that most anchors on TV are snooty and self-absorbed. But this remark by the snootiest of them all takes the cake. What the polls meant to those States, those voters and the nation is of no consequence, pushed to the backseat or even to the boot! Serious national and human issues had long ago been reduced to a few passing visuals to the accompaniment of flippant comments. But this tendency of the mirror, which is just what the media is, to claim more importance than the real, is most irksome.

Indeed, the day of the election results turned out to be ‘great’ for all the English news channels. And for all, the real ‘breaking news’ was not about the news broken, but who broke it first! Naturally, the race for breaking news, which was anyway getting broken, was on at frantic pace but the rush for exclusives was a veritable stampede. We had this strange spectacle of simultaneous exclusives. For instance, Akhilesh Yadav was on all TV channels at the same time. And each channel claimed his ‘interview’ as its own scoop. The tendency to claim exclusive privilege of being ‘spoken to’, even at public press conferences when the normal dignified usage is ‘told the media’, is 24/7 TV’s gift to journalism. By that logic, can’t we, the media and people in distant TN, also claim that Akhilesh actually spoke to you and me, for, after all we own the TV set, besides a pair of eyes and ears and have paid for the cable connection?

But the channel alluded to in line 1 para 1 tops the charts for sheer entertainment. Here is a graphic account, at the risk of reliving that humourous horror. The exuberant anchor had cut loose himself from his seat earlier in the day itself. As the results flowed in and the polls kept turning ‘greater and greater’ for him and his channel, he started moving around in a frenzied manner, his glassy eyes burning with fervour and blinding the cameras. The cameras themselves were trying hard to keep pace with his wild swings and sways, what with the limited screen space left after accomodating numeric poll figures and numerous political figures as well. This one man compensated for the absence of any major ‘swing’ in this poll!

Soon, there was this serious risk of him breaking not only news but also mikes, computers, desks and assorted furniture, and making a Parliament of his newsroom. By noon he was berserk, springing and screaming, first to announce and then to applaud and claiming victory for his channel, irrespective of whoever lost or won the actual polls. A wireless earphone that broke news to him first ensured that he was deaf to the rest of the world and immune to the gesticulations of his hapless invitees though his throat was in full throttle all through. And by lunchtime the loony look was too much to stomach, even for one with a strong appetite for humour and I switched off before that clownish madcap could jump off the screen and claim to feed me with not only news but also my daily meals! That news would break my heart!

Analysts were only a shade less comic than the anchors. Editors of eminence and sultans of statistics displayed their intellectual wares as they went about dissecting in depth what was apparent on the surface. Can’t blame them because they were hired much in advance in the hope of hung verdicts that would have kept them busy. Clear results cannot now deter them from exhibiting their expertise. Still, as fortunes swung within the overall obvious trends, these experts kept visiting and revisiting their earlier ‘firm’ analyses with equal gusto and nary any guilt. Aah, how I hate this printed word, a devil that, once unleashed, cannot be recalled at all! Or should I cherish the physical anonymity that almost allows a writer the moral power of the invisible Almighty? This is not said in hubris but in angst at the many journalistic titans and their hallowed verbal authoritiy getting dwarfed and diluted in the mad melee and delirious din of TV journalism, if you can call it journalism, that is. Far from playing God, is it not a relief at not being paraded as a joker, jesting and jostling to grab the attention … of not the audience but just the anchor?

Ouch. Thanks for reminding. I too got bitten by the bug by which news breakers have turned news makers and only media matters. Yes, indeed there were polls and the results are out. In Punjab and Manipur it is status quo. Uttarkhand’s status is in question. In UP and Goa, change has ‘restored’ status quo. Voters, starving for choice, seem to flip between parties just as they switch channels, knowing full well it is the same scene and scheme with all. What else is there to say when all that needs to be said has been said; every analysis has been done with; and no fun is left with all the puns exhausted? And when even politicos parrot only what the media had predicted on prime-time?

Let’s end with this hilarious conversation between an SP leader who inadvertently got trapped in the studios and our favourite anchor:

SP Leader: I want to go, sir.

Anchor: Before you go, stay!

SP Leader: Ok, let me go after saying this.

Anchor: I know you have to go, but I will let you go after you stay and say …

How I love those power cuts!

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Jawahar T R