Breaking Down News: Khat in the Crossfire

Farmers kept unlikely souvenirs after Rahul Gandhi’s khat sabha, and in Pakistan “excessive” Indian programming takes a backseat.

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Published:September 10, 2016 12:03 am
 rahul gandhi, rahul gandhi khaat sabha, khaat sabha, uttar pradesh elections 2017, up polls, ussr, Ginger Gingerovich, black sea, DPRK news, north korea, korean central news agency, karl marx, das capital, kcna, pakistan dth service, congress campaign, pakistani media, media in pakistan, facebook, indian express news, india news, latest news The Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

During the chill of the Cold War, Punch ran a series of satirical sketches set in the USSR with headlines like, ‘Waiter, there’s a Bat in My Cat Borscht’. Some featured the intrepid communist airman Biggles Bigglesyevich and his trusty wingman Ginger Gingerovich, who strode the shores of the Black Sea and gazed proudly upon the fleet, while puffing cigarettes held up at a suitably rakish angle. This was because if they drooped down like in the noir movies, the sawdust would fall out of them. At the time, the lifestyle of the Soviet proletariat was at its lowest ebb.

But history is not written exclusively by the victor. @DPRK_News, which poses as the official channel through which North Korea addresses the world, is carrying on the Punch tradition in reverse, lampooning the triumphant West. While it has a real hyperlink to the very real Korean Central News Agency, it is hard to believe that it isn’t a joke account. A recent release: “Passions of radish eaters are stirred by news of record crop in Kangwon Province.” And: “Mule-headed idiot John Kerry disrupts G-20 summit with endless anecdotes concerning proper placement of toilet seats.” And wild claims, such as: “Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un corrects numerous grammatical and syntactical errors in Karl Marx’s Das Kapital.” The KCNA doesn’t go this far. Its remit is restricted to mildly extraordinary headlines like: ‘Feats Made by Great Persons to Turn DPRK into Thick Woodland’ and ‘Exploits of Peerlessly Great Persons Highly Praised’.

But yesterday, as if to establish its credentials, @DPRK_News squeezed off a prescient tweet concerning the maximum leader: “Announcement of utmost importance forthcoming from Marshal Kim Jong-Un. All peoples reminded to follow @DPRK_News.” An accompanying video clip showed two missiles lifting off in sinisterly smooth unison, presumably for Los Angeles and San Francisco. A few minutes later, the earth moved for North Korea and quake stories appeared on the wires and TV. Only later was the 5.6 tremor attributed to a nuclear test. But the maximum leader never spoke through the Twitter handle. Maybe its minder has been shot.

It’s been the better part of a week, but India still wants to jest about Rahul Gandhi’s khat sabha in Deoria, where the natives made off with the furniture within seconds of the conclusion of his speech. Why not? Rahulji wasn’t going to take the cots home, was he? Rather than the fiasco that the media is making it out to be, to the unbiased eye the incident appears to be a triumph of practical reason that the Utilitarians would have applauded.

The people of eastern UP have effortlessly solved the philosophical problem set by Rahul Gandhi – what are 2,000 string cots good for? They will make realistic choices in the elections ahead, and many punditly reputations will be lost among the keen intellects which throng TV studios during elections for days at a time, apparently without loo breaks. No mere human intellect can possibly know how this election will play out, and the schizophrenia in the Congress camp is muddying the picture some more. Rahul Gandhi has taken first mover advantage with promises that will find favour with the peasantry, who feel neglected by the BJP – loan waivers and friendlier minimum support prices. But while getting the farm vote right, Congress publicists appear to have no knowledge of colloquial Hindi. Absolutely no idea of the manner in which the word khat would rouse our inner sub-editor.

India TV reports that as Pakistan rolls out DTH services, its electronic media regulator is about to crack down on cable and satellite channels offering “excessive” Indian programming. That means anything over 6 per cent of total airtime. The regulator has also ranted about the 3 million Indian decoders and dishes sold in Pakistan, and wants to know how it’s all being paid for. Who knows, maybe that’s where all those fake rupee notes come from, traded for reruns of Aap ki Adalat. And by the way, doesn’t that programme inadvertently violate the model code of conduct wherever and whenever AAP contests an election?

Wonder how Facebook’s shiny new algorithms for the curated news section would deal with a question that futuristic. At the end of August, the company tried to pull ahead of the pack, disinvesting human capital in favour of machine intelligence. This week, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports that within hours of giving the algo more say in deciding what was trending news, Facebook had pushed up a demonstrably fake story about Fox host Megyn Kelly. The presence of typos in the copy would have put up a red flag to the 18 human editors, which the social network used to have. But humans had been reassigned from overseeing the news flow to overseeing the algo, which was overseeing the news flow. And left to itself, the algo dredged the very depths of the internet, and turned its sludge into headline news.

pratik.kanjilal@expressindia.com