The use of the news

Hindi news channels veer between the absurd and the practical

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | Published: January 13, 2009 2:26 am

‘News you can use’ sounds like a face wipe you use and throw away; much of ‘news’ on Hindi news channels can be dispensed with because it serves no such useful purpose. Then again,on occasion,Hindi news is genuinely helpful. So while the English news was bursting a blood vessel over Pakistan’s snubs to India on 26/11,the Hindi news was at sabzi mandis across the country checking vegetable prices every day of the truckers’ strike. Channels like Sahara Samay/NCR,Star News,Dilli Aaj Tak,etc.,advised us against buying a sackful of potatoes; as one vegetable wholesale merchant in Azadpur told Dilli Aaj Tak,“Ma’am,no problem,we have plenty of vegetables.”  

And when oil PSUs struck work (rather than oil!),they were at gas stations in the metros from daybreak to midnight warning us supplies were running dry: ‘85 per cent khatam’ emblazoned the ominous headlines. This may have sent panic-stricken fuel guzzlers rushing out to tank up but at least we knew what to expect. India TV even told us where we could still obtain fuel in Delhi,Friday afternoon. Definitely,news you could use.  

Which is not to pretend that Hindi channels do not remain genuine rivals to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Last Tuesday,Voice claimed that what we were about to see,had never been seen before. They kid us not. Before our disbelieving eyes appeared a snake the size of a crocodile who snapped up a girl in bunny headgear: “If you look away she will die.” We were assured that the girl is alive — and kicking,presumably — inside the snake’s cavernous body. Indeed,we saw it enlarge like an expanding suitcase to accommodate her. Will the snake turn into a prince and marry the girl? Couldn’t wait to find out.  

If you can sit through such serpentine tales,Hindi news channels often cover local news and issues better than English channels which prefer to magnify the big picture. On IBN-7,saw how the bullet-proof jackets worn by the police had holes blown into them by an AK-47 rifle. This is not new news (it’s been in print before) but seeing it does provide frightening proof of the jackets’ inefficacy. Aaj Tak Dilli found that Delhi’s municipal authorities had not distributed the mandatory sweaters to MCD schoolchildren because of ‘defective’ samples. However,said an MCD official cheerily,‘we’re ready for next year’. Meanwhile,the children can shiver this winter. 

Times Now has sent a reporter to Gaza, perhaps they are the only ones who can afford to. Saw a good (soft) feature on Israelis in bomb shelters. Most of what we see on CNN and BBC is coming from the Israelis since the Gaza strip is out of bounds to the media. So BBC on Saturday telecast “Israeli army footage” of soldiers in Gaza.  See how other countries control media coverage of wars/attacks? 

All of a sudden the PM is seen and heard. He is speaking loud and clear at official functions on the economy,terror,issues that concern us. In fact,since 26/11,the UPA government has stepped forward and grabbed the microphone with both hands: Manmohan Singh,Pranab Mukherjee,P. Chidambaram are monopolising the media with constant statements,elbowing out the NDA’s L.K.Advani — so voluble and visible till a few months ago. Are we getting better governance or just better media management?  

Lastly,from Sahara One: its soap Kaisi Lagi Lagan is described in the following terms: “A college-based theme which will go on to be a cursed love story”. Have a snaking,sorry sneaking suspicion the serpent and his bunny girl have taken rebirth.

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