Picking out events wedged in the past, reporting forced stories and fear of a schoolboy’s hack — the many vulnerabilities of the powers that be Hotstar is taxonomically accurate. It has tagged Republic TV as an “English reality” show, like Big Brother. Indeed, the cover art of the next edition of Orwell’s 1984 could be the full page newspaper ad for Republic TV, depicting half the brooding face of Arnab Goswami. One cannot possibly imagine a more striking portrait of Big Brother, which leaves the viewer in suspense about what the other half of the face is up to.
Big Brother looks at small things. Things which everyone knows about, and which are not news. Like the complaint of former AAP MLA Asif Ahmed Khan, from whom the party apparently asked Rs 5 crore, 20 per cent of a Rs 25 crore kitty to be raised from party members to take a stake in a cable network. Control over media appears to have become a valid, mainstream political objective, and control over one cable network is peanuts in comparison. But it’s a story, and Republic did it.
Unfortunately, it had been done before. Despite much cajoling by Goswami, Khan stuck to his guns: he had spoken quite freely about this during the Punjab elections. Even so, the strap on the TV screen said, “AAP stunned by expose”. Republic is sticking to the old formula that made Times Now a hot property: report the news as if it is happening right now, even if – and especially if – it actually happened months ago.
The Republic Anschluss is not completely useless, of course. The Sunanda Pushkar tapes have exposed the teeming millions, through the tweeting thumb of Shashi Tharoor, to a revival of the noun ‘farrago’. But other stories have been rather forced. Republic led its launch with the tape of a conversation between Lalu Prasad Yadav and the jailed mobster Shahabuddin. The impropriety of a partner in government taking orders from a criminal was to be highlighted, but the viewer comes away with the surreal impression that Shahabuddin is a committed defender of communal harmony. And if Lalu caused police to be deployed in Siwan following that conversation, he was only doing his job. Big Brother was convinced that Lalu was not coming out of his house to meet his reporters because he was riveted to Republic TV. But for good measure, he urged Tharoor, the next target, to watch Republic.
Republic has allowed its studio to be overrun by ayesayers. If the ayes constantly have it, and the exposes exclusively target people unfriendly to the BJP, it feels like you’re watching a promotional feature, and not the “independent” channel that Republic promised to be.
The hacking exposition by embedded systems engineer and AAP MLA Saurabh Bhardwaj is not the first iteration of the controversy over electronic voting machines (EVMs), but this is the first show and tell in a legislature. Even sceptical channels like Times Now showed it to the bitter end, when the BJP’s Rajouri Garden bypoll winner Manjinder Singh Sirsa was baited to the point when the speaker had to remind him that he was in a legislature, not a “gundagardi ka adda”.
The last time someone demonstrated the vulnerability of an EVM was in 2010, when Hari K Prasad of Hyderabad’s NetIndia, J Alex Halderman of the University of Michigan and the Dutch security researcher Rop Gonggrijp demonstrated that a hacker needed only brief access to an Indian EVM, just long enough to replace some hardware. It isn’t half as long as your stereo repair man takes to replace a heatsink. Bhardwaj has specified precisely how long — 90 seconds to replace the motherboard.
While the 2010 study (available at indiaevm.org) said that once the hardware was replaced, the hack could be triggered by a mobile phone, Bhardwaj requires a party man to go to the booth, vote as usual, and then quickly punch in the code using the polling buttons before leaving. Thereafter, as he demonstrated, all votes go to one candidate. And then Sirsa erupted in righteous indignation, prompting the speaker to protest, “Tarika theek nahin hai”.