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Monday, July 23, 2018

Saturated sound and a silence broken

In a week that Indian TV was overrun by Modi’s visit to the US while the American press remained less than enthusiastic, came a statement from the PM against cow vigilantism after a year of silence.

Written by Pratik Kanjilal | Updated: July 1, 2017 2:26:38 am
Narendra Modi, gau rakshaks, Cow, cow vigilants, not In My name protests, Donald trump, trump Modi meeting, Apart from the low hubbub over Modi’s visit, silence of a timbre that is deafeningly familiar to us in India has descended over the White House. (File photo)

The picnic hamper for best headline on the Trump-Modi meet goes to Al Jazeera for: “Steak meets dahl (lentils) for US-India first date.” There are no gau rakshaks yet in Doha, London or Washington, where the channel has its offices. But as George W Bush said so memorably, “The future will be better — tomorrow.”

Indian television media was saturated with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s US visit — quite naturally, since it is an opportunity to leave behind the H1B visa issue and rekindle the bonhomie that NDA2 enjoyed with the Obama administration. But the programme advertising was a little bizarre: “Watch Modi win America again,” or words to that effect. And more than one channel claimed that Modi was the first leader of a major country to gain entry into the Trump White House. Through the door, presumably, rather than the chimney. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan must be mortified. His much-publicised February visit — which featured a famous handshake—apparently does not count.

The US press has been less enthusiastic—just as naturally, because America has much less to gain. On the day the Indian headlines celebrated the elevation of the Hizbul chief to the status of globo-terrorist, The New York Times did not have a story about the visit on the front page of the internet edition. A couple of days earlier, though, it had written about the two world leaders, “both of whom swept to power as media-savvy political outsiders pledging to revive their national economies.” The trail boss of LK Advani’s rathyatra in 1990, and chief minister of an important state from 2001 to 2014, is a political outsider? That’s news to us.

Apart from the low hubbub over Modi’s visit, silence of a timbre that is deafeningly familiar to us in India has descended over the White House. The daily briefings are now off-camera and press secretary Sean Spicer has declared, in essence, that it is more important to get together with the press and discuss politics than to be seen to be discussing politics. However, it has been noticed that while officially discouraging the use of television cameras, Spicer and his boss have been appearing regularly on one channel– Fox. It’s the season’s flavour.

CNN retaliated by sending courtroom sketch artist Bill Hennessy to Spicer’s briefings. Its competitors have dismissed the strategy as a stunt, but CNN feels that Hennessy brings the White House briefings to life, like he did for the hearings over Guantanamo Bay detainees and Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Though he did generate some controversy because his sketches showed one TV camera focused on Spicer. Presumably, it’s the shade of the camera that was banned.

But CNN is on the back foot on another issue. To maintain its credibility, three top investigative reporters put in their papers this week over a story concerning Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci, based on an unnamed source. He has disputed it, providing an opportunity for the White House to see the story as evidence of an ongoing media conspiracy. Trump tweeted: “They caught Fake News CNN cold.” And deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders exhorted the press corps to see a video in which a CNN employee criticises the network. Rather than evidence of a media conspiracy, this is a warning to media to take especial care of gatekeeping operations at a time when it is under intense and hostile scrutiny.

The Indian news is entirely about lynchings. Which is a misnomer, a Wild West Americanism. Indian ‘lynchings’ happen on national highways and in thickly populated neighbourhoods, not in some 18th century wilderness. As India Today has pointed out, Indian penal law recognises no such crime. And yet, the word has become central to the discourse, and the media and civil society have accepted it. Logically, it can only summon up that wonderfully toothless legal device, the FIR against persons unknown. Calling the crime by its commonly understood name, premeditated murder with malice aforethought, might produce better deterrence.

But never mind the nomenclature, the protests against lynchings in several cities on Wednesday evening appear to have been more successful than the organisers had anticipated. ‘Not in My Name’ elicited a statement against cow vigilantism from the prime minister within 17 hours. After more than a year of echoing silence. If a TV channel had organised the event, they would have instantly claimed ‘Not in My Name effect’.

The event was widely covered by television and print, including international media like Al Jazeera and the BBC, and will prove to be extremely long-tailed on social media. The only channel which splashed about resolutely against the current was Republic TV, which ran Arnab Goswami’s “most direct Yogi interview” at the time. The term ‘direct’ in the banner was rotated with ‘fiery’ and ‘newsy’. These words meant nothing. The ‘most’ remained constant, naturally. Arnab is the mostest.

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