Wednesday, Sep 24, 2014

Tracking Hoofprints

Written by Pratik Kanjilal 2 | Posted: February 8, 2014 4:11 am

The most diverting TV news was out of the box and on the internet — two blitzkrieg attacks on the dignity of Arnab Goswami. The first, signalled by the trending hashtag #GetWellSoonArnab, appeared to be an Aam Aadmi Party reaction to the sudden withdrawal of support by Times Now. After Arvind Kejriwal’s lie-in at Rail Bhavan, the antics of the freshly expelled Vinod Binny and sundry other embarrassments, it has become hard for any TV channel to take AAP seriously. Goswami’s head was the highest over the ratings parapet and he took the hit.

Goswami’s other attacker was the impossibly soft-spoken Arun Shourie. In a very uncharacteristic video that went viral on YouTube, he is seen doing a great send-up of Arnab Goswami at a public forum. Shourie as Goswami is breaking the story of the very first fire to have ever been set at a TV studio — his own. He  has the arsonist and firefighter Banta Singh on the panel. The arsonist claims to have a set a very small fire, but the studio was engulfed by a huge fire. How? The people of India have a right to know.

Was the firefighter at fault — a straight yes or no, and no beating about the bush. And so on. Like Shourie, we’ve seen the show. We know the plot and are a bit weary of it. Shourie disparaged the default format that television news has institutionalised as “six fellows in little boxes”. “It’s the same every evening, involving the same people,” he said. “This is the discourse.”

But to be fair, Times Now improved the discourse yesterday, when former air chief Fali H. Major was required to clear his name of the AgustaWestland mire, because he had been hosted one evening in 2007 by Finmeccanica, which owns the chopper manufacturer, as part of a larger delegation. CNN-IBN ran a noncommittal interview with Major, which suggested that it had no idea what the fuss was all about. But Times Now asked him the question that mattered: what was discussed that evening? Avionics and radars, it turned out, not choppers.

From such stirring questions of national security, one turned to the ongoing drama in Ludhiana surrounding the samadhi of what News 24 called a “clinical dead (sic) sant with Z-plus security”. Ashutosh Maharaj has been given a death certificate and a doctor confirmed that he had no pulse, but a close aide said that it was a prelude to metaphysical resurrection, and the body was being sequestered from the faithful until the glad event. A veena plangently played as the camera panned across the tear-streaked faces of those futilely awaiting a darshan. “No cameras allowed inside, no news, no pulse, zero degree corpse,” the reporter complained, and turned away to irate men, who were alleging a scam over the departed soul’s “Rs 1,000 crore estate”.

Such is the news from the heartland this week, which began with an almighty uproar over the kidnapping of seven VIP buffaloes from Azam Khan. While the police tracked the hoofprints of the buffaloes across Rampur district, TV cameras tracked the police. “What are you doing?” reporters asked SP Sadhna Goswami. “Tracking hoofprints,” she replied laconically, in what could be the most difficult moment of her life. It was one of those situations where you’re damned if you talk and damned if you don’t. But fortunately, Delhi’s anchors did most of the talking. The BJP tried to communalise the crisis along bovine lines by protesting that UP’s buffaloes were getting police protection, while the cattle trade at the India-Bangladesh border continued unabated. Finally, Azam Khan sarcastically thanked everyone for the free publicity, and that was that.

pratik.kanjilal@expressindia.com

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