Deja vu,Yet Again

Why are news channels taken aback by the same old stories?

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Published: September 8, 2012 12:35:58 am

“I want to go deeper,” threatened Arnab Goswami,like a distorted echo of Sly Stone’s Woodstock classic I want to take you higher. He was just one of millions who wanted to know what the mayhem was all about,but he is more determined than the rest of us. The new station identification of the Lok Sabha channel was the atonal drone of protest,broken only by adjournment announcements. The voice of the Chair was actually heard only once: “No no please what is this? No no please what is this?” That was when two MPs started a freestyle bout which looked impromptu but may have been premeditated.

Meanwhile,The Washington Post added injury to Time’s recent insult with a cover story disparaging the Prime Minister. So what? We Indian hacks routinely scrag Barack Obama. But the government went all flinty-eyed. In footage aired on all channels,the otherwise intelligent Salman Khurshid said that being spanked by the foreign hand was unacceptable. Being intelligent,he couched it in less colourful terms.

These two issues engaged the attention of Arnab Goswami in Wednesday’s Newshour,a Jekyll and Hyde show. Dr Jekyll was in familiar territory on The Washington Post issue and conducted a reasoned debate. But in Parliament,Mr Hyde was up the creek without a paddle. No matter,he was packing his war club and just waded in.

Responsible journalists go into a story with an open mind. They discover the real story instead of simply affirming their preconceptions. But Mr Hyde was way over the baggage allowance. He had decided in advance to prove in 30 minutes that the WWF encounter between a pair of SP and BSP MPs in the Rajya Sabha was a red herring smoked up by the government to distract attention from Coalgate. Ditto for the introduction of the Bill for reservation in promotions,which had sparked off the wrestling bout,and which the government had tabled with the knowledge that it could not be discussed in an uproar.

Mr Hyde took a 10-minute lifeline over his programme’s half-time and still couldn’t prove his thesis. His guests were intelligent and uncooperative. Saifuddin Soz of the Congress had been invited as the main course,to be torn into by the other guests,but they had no appetite. When Rajya Sabha MP Ajay Kumar digressed,arguing that Parliament has scant respect for discussion anyway,that one out of five legislations is passed in five minutes without debate,he was urged to concentrate on Arnab’s thesis. “I want to go deeper,” Arnab repeated,but he failed in his enterprise to get down and dirty.

Cut to The Washington Post story,with Minhaz Merchant affably saying that India bureau chief Simon Denyer had “regurgitated” the Indian media’s discourse. He was prescient,because plagiarism charges from the PMO and a correction on the newspaper’s website followed. Even setting aside the question of plagiarism,which is still contested,Merchant was right. This story recapped what had already been said in acres and acres of Indian newsprint,ever since the story of the 2G scam broke and the government suffered policy paralysis.

Goswami concluded that the government’s reaction to the story was out of proportion. But haven’t all responses been excessive this week,including his own? This is scarcely the first time that the House has been turned into a wrestling ring. Apart from Parliament,almost every Assembly has witnessed worse scenes. Has the Indian prime minister or the government never been dissed before? Did television need to report so obsessively on these events,conveying the impression that they were unprecedented?

pratik.kanjilal@expressindia.com

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