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Thursday, October 29, 2020

Heart to heart

Prime Minister Vajpayee’s knee got away lightly compared to Prime Minister Singh’s heart.

Written by Saubhik Chakrabarti | January 31, 2009 1:35:45 am

Prime Minister Vajpayee’s knee got away lightly compared to Prime Minister Singh’s heart. But that was only because when Atal Behari Vajpayee’s knee surgery was national news,TV news wasn’t as,er,developed as now. So,as Manmohan Singh and his team of doctors prepared for his heart surgery,TV news prepared the nation. TV journalists dressed up as surgeons and studios mocked up to look like operating theatres. Cardiac specialists called in to appear on evening news bulletins. News specials on the lead surgeon. India TV beat the likes of NDTV,CNN-IBN and Times Now. But the competition was tough,especially when NDTV started interviewing Dr Singh’s extended family.

There’s an important question I have in this context: what or who were India TV’s ‘surgeons’ ‘operating’ on? A brave India TV journalist? A dummy? Another somewhat less important question: how come two Hindi news channels,Zee and Star,broke the news early that the PM’s operation has been successful? The official announcement came hours later. I have no reason to disbelieve the channels but one wonders whether on matters like this it is all that wise to scoop the news by talking to ‘sources’.

A reader of this column asked me to praise TV news in general on account of the fact that at least this time round there was no live broadcast from the actual theatre of operation. I won’t go that far. But I did wonder what the NSG brass was thinking when it agreed to host CNN-IBN’s (inevitably corny,given the idea) commandos plus cricketers show. CNN-IBN has all the right in the world to think this up and the cricketers concerned have all the right to appear. But is it alright for a battle-hardened elite force to play TV-TV?

Does this happen in other major countries? Can you see Britain’s SAS agreeing to,say,Channel 4 dressing up a couple of star English footballers in SAS gear and then letting TV news crew roam around the HQ? The onus of the answer,as I said,here is not on the TV channel but on the NSG brass.

Just in case the argument is made,this is different from TV news crew taking A or B list movie actors to armed forces’ forward posts. Those shows are as corny. But a forward post is different from an HQ. Our institutions,at least the important ones,must have the capacity to distinguish between necessary openness in their interaction with the media and allowing their institutional gravitas to suffer under TV news’s powerful demands for camera-friendly emoting.

Plenty of camera-friendly emoting on NDTV’s annual awards show,of course. A humble suggestion: Too many awards in too many categories reduce the cache of each award. Another humble suggestion: The prepared scripts preceding every announcement can be less over-the-top; anchors responsible for reading out these scripts will look and sound more convincing.

A stray observation: Did LK Advani look a little perturbed on receiving the lifetime achievement award or was it my imagination acting up after having watched bit too much of the show? May be I am wrong. But,think. A prime ministerial candidate getting a lifetime achievement award three months or so before elections may indeed entertain a certain degree of ambiguity about the honour.

TV news on politicians’ palaver on ‘pub culture’? This was made-for-TV news and I thought the coverage was okay,given what one expects from TV news when morals are news. But two things deserve separate mentions. Times Now news anchors were hyperventilating. This was noticeable even allowing for the channel’s high standards on this behaviourial aspect. On CNN-IBN’s Face the Nation that dealt with the Mangalore controversy,a panelist frequently took over the mantle of the host,leaning forward and asking questions of other panelists. I think she might have ended up speaking more than the show’s host,an extraordinary event in Indian TV news.

Watch out,TV anchors.

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