Much ado about Narendra Modi

Modi is on a Bharat darshan. And the TV news channels are on a Modi darshan

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | Published: April 11, 2013 3:18 am

Modi is on a Bharat darshan. And the TV news channels are on a Modi darshan

If it’s Saturday,it must be Narendra Modi. If it’s Sunday,it must be Modi. If it’s Monday,it must be Modi and even if it’s Tuesday,it must be Modi. You get the general drift? Every day is Modi-day on television news. One morning,they telecast his speech live from Ahmedabad,then it’s Delhi,followed by Kolkata. Boy,does the chief minister of Gujarat get around. Looks like he’s on a Bharat darshan and TV news is on Modi darshan.

The media is,quite literally,the medium for his message. This suits Modi admirably: through television,his white-bearded face is getting known beyond Gujarat and his views on an infinite variety of subjects are being aired at length. And because he’s addressing formal gatherings to which he has been invited,not facing aggressive journalists at interviews or press conferences,he’s seldom asked hard questions. Talk about free advertisements for Narendra Modi.

It suits the media to promote Modi,and not only because he’s the front-runner in BJP’s prime ministerial race. At a time when advertising is becoming a serious concern for many news channels and Trai is trying to restrict advertising to 12-minutes per hour on TV, they need to keep costs down. And like every other malaise that afflicts the country,Modi seems to offer a cure: he’s charismatic but contentious and therefore generates conflict and strong reactions — ideal for TV. He offers high viewership at low cost for cash-strapped TV news.

Take Monday,for instance: in the morning,TV news covered his speech at the FICCI Ladies Organisation event in Delhi. As soon as the session ended,they analysed the speech — Jasuben versus Kalavati,screamed headlines. The next few hours were spent telecasting excerpts from Modi’s speech,reactions to his speech and features on Jasuben,the pizza queen of Ahmedabad who he’d referred to. This continued until it was time to go live to Modi,again,this time at the TV18 Think India dialogue. Back to another cycle of discussions on what he said, reactions,excerpts.

By the time those wheels had ground to a halt,it was prime time,or show time,folks. More heated arguments on Modi,Modi and Rahul,Modi and the BJP,Modi and the NDA,Modi and Modi. Why,even DD News joined the fun. Modi at FICCI featured on its Newsnight discussion with journalists Arati Jerath,Vinod Sharma and Chandan Mitra. (Why is DD News imitating private news channels? Is this a case of anything you can do,I can do too,only worse? Why doesn’t it stay with the one thing it does do better — giving us news from around the country and the world?)

Some channels,like Times Now,repeated Modi’s FICCI speech late at night. Which meant he had been on air for most of our waking hours Monday — 12 hours approximately — and the TV news channels hadn’t moved out of Delhi.

Since December and the Gujarat elections,TV news has lived off Modi. Everything suggests that this Modi rage will continue right up to the next general elections. The attitude of TV news,thus far,is to dish out to viewers whatever Modi offers with some critical comment. By relaying almost every word he utters live and repeating it throughout the day,TV news has projected him as a first among equals across the political spectrum. But will this projection as the front-runner and the constant coverage kill all opposition to him,or will it be an overkill for Modi and the BJP?

Not sure so much exposure is always good. Smriti Irani has come a long way since her days on Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. She’s now a BJP vice president and TV provacateur par excellence. She’s become very aggro and loud. Never more so than Monday on Times Now when she drowned out all other voices,particularly journalist Sankarshan Thakur’s. In the discussion on Modi (who else?),she went on the offensive and became offensive,accusing Thakur of deliberately arguing and bringing up the Gujarat 2002 riots in order to appear on another TV news panel. She all but called him a Congress lackey. Whereupon he yelled back. Tolerance levels on TV debates are rapidly diminishing. If this is the kind of exchange we already hear,shudder to think what will pass for a “discussion” once the elections are upon us.

The winner is of course,TV news: it’s providing entertainment and tamasha like Big Boss to its audience at throwaway prices.

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

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