Advertising on news channels has taken a leaf out of Google’s strategy of matching ads with content. An ad on Total News rode on a crime story in which the Ghaziabad police had caught a stolen Baleno with fake plates fully loaded with untaxed booze. As a beefy policeman explained how the ringleaders got away, up popped an ad for an alcohol deaddiction clinic. Extraordinarily timely. And a couple of days ago, Samay unveiled an election package about the “aam chunav”, which will be decided by the “aam janta”, who have “aam demands”, or words to that effect. Much of a mangoness out of season, isn’t it, now that the model code of conduct is in effect?
News Express is doing holistic healing via the news. Its morning capsule comes with a pill to cure forgetfulness. These capsules, which all channels run, rapidly deliver news of the latest atrocities committed on and by the human race in the previous 24 hours. Since they are entirely forgettable, the News Express newsreader closes off by telling readers that curds, walnuts, strawberries and tomatoes are memory enhancers and, generally speaking, that they should eat their vegetables. Well done, but then the newscast goes into a break and the first ad peddles the services of a sexologist in old Delhi. I probably need more strawberries and curds, since I recall only one news story from that programme. It was about how Rahul Gandhi was recruiting spies from the National Students Union of India to follow Congress candidates about and report their actions to him every 24 hours. Since the last elaborate domestic spying network in India was described in the Arthashastra, this story did stir the imagination. But no one else was eager to run with it.
Zee, which is now associated with the Mumbai-based newspaper DNA, takes the maximum city seriously. So, while Arvind Kejriwal’s visitation to Mumbai received but routine coverage from most channels, Zee took up cudgels in high dudgeon. Its showpiece was the latest episode of Operation Pardaphash, in which it had a clip of a phone conversation between film personality-turned-election candidate Mahesh Manjrekar and Chhota Shakeel, in which the channel asked viewers to ponder if they wanted to send to Parliament a person who was on speaking terms with a person close to Dawood Ibrahim, who had bombed Mumbai.
But Kejriwal’s visitation opened for the Pardaphash show. It irritated Zee just as much, on the ground that his journey from the airport into the city by auto was a “scripted drama”. An enterprising reporter got an interview with the driver of the auto which had ferried Kejriwal to Andheri station, in which he clearly said that he had been asked to be there in advance, and that the registration number of his auto had been communicated to his illustrious passenger. Actually, that wasn’t much of a story since the auto-driver, like many others of his tribe, enjoys a long association with the Aam Aadmi Party.
But Zee’s other complaints were quite credible. The auto had been illegally overloaded, AAP supporters on bikes had ignored red lights and stalled traffic, and worn those broom-laden caps instead of helmets, as required by law. They had apparently taken over a coach of the suburban train to Churchgate and locked the doors from the inside. When they got off, they broke three metal detectors. Oddly, the anarchy in Mumbai did not get much play in the channels headquartered in Delhi, but Zee played it up to sobering effect by contrasting the mayhem with archival footage of the Dandi March. The early triumph of the politics of nonviolence showed up its modern lights-camera-action avatar.