Confusing Times

When diligence meets speculation

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Published: April 20, 2013 1:34 am

When diligence meets speculation

It is time to be afraid. This column,which watches the media,will soon be watched in turn by a “research unit” in the fabled Congress war room. It will keep its beady eye on the media — all of it,all the time. And it will then shovel back its research outcomes into the news flow. This is known as planting. Understandably,the party is tired of being hammered in scam after scam. But since its plantation managers are not noted horticulturists,and since filling airtime is a daily struggle for 24×7 TV,the outcomes of this experiment are unpredictable. It is time to be very afraid.

Consider the time and attention lavished on Slapgate by Times Now. Sreesanth’s confusion over forehands,backhands and elbows was milked with such absurd diligence that by the time Arnab Goswami rounded it off with his talk show,he couldn’t quit laughing himself. The lawyer Rahul Mehra wondered what the fuss was all about when the BCCI’s video footage could settle the matter. The topping was a phone call to Lalit Modi in London,in which he admitted to having valuable footage which he would not release for fear of litigation. And Goswami’s guests all laughed at him. It was a cruelly funny programme closing off a joke of an issue.

But generally,TV news is being diligent in its primary role of giving viewers direct access to the news. The ultra-nationalist Times Now performed national service for a change,focusing its righteous indignation on a national disgrace. It clubbed together four recent instances of impunity — the Aligarh women who were lathi-charged and tear-gassed and the Delhi girls who were slapped by the police for protesting the rape of children,the NCP leader’s son (reported as a “brat”) accused of running over a child in Aurangabad,and the Maharashtra policeman Sachin Suryavanshi,who was thrashed fearlessly by legislators.

But TV news is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. Black Forest may be followed by weird green marzipan. Along with Zee News and ITV News,CNN-IBN’s Breakfast Show highlighted a shameful incident in Ludhiana,where a woman was beaten with iron rods by four men,in public. Coming close on the heels of reports of the police beating a woman in Tarn Taran,the refusal of the police to register a case in Ludhiana was sobering.

But minutes later,IBN Live reported from the Sadar Block chief’s home in Chandauli district of UP that a man was massaging himself and a boy with hot milk and “running about followed by a huge crowd”. Somebody stop him,the mystifying report protested. Instead,everyone including the state transport minister,who was present at the scene,apparently egged him on. It was impossible to understand the motive for running this weird report,which really belonged in social media rather than a news service.

Speaking of social media,Al Jazeera claimed that the FBI’s call for help from the public in the Boston marathon bombing case had helped the police to zero in on Watertown. But while Pritish Nandy and others were suggesting that the Indian government start enlisting the help of the Twitterati instead of disparaging them,Al Jazeera,NBC and other channels were being cautious in their reporting of the fast-breaking story,precisely because social media was involved.

In fact,the repeated misreporting of the identities of the suspects suggests that social media,traditional media and the administration’s information system interfaced very poorly. If the wrongly identified Sunil Tripathi surfaces,he could be a millionaire overnight simply by suing the entire media,national and local. And the rednecks on Reddit,besides.

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