Telescope: The year of high decibelshttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/narendra-modi-supreme-court-arvind-kejriwal-arnab-goswami-rahul-gandhi/

Telescope: The year of high decibels

2015 was noisy and saw the PM Narendra Modi deliver. Speeches, that is.

 Narendra Modi is the first PM whose state campaign speeches are covered live by TV. (Source: PTI)
Narendra Modi is the first PM whose state campaign speeches are covered live by TV. (Source: PTI)

Close your eyes: Go one, close them. And watch TV — you know what we mean. What do you see, sense, feel, breathe — and hear? Noise.

In 2015, the decibel levels went critical: Time for the Supreme Court to intervene to save viewers from noise pollution. Introduce a sound tax. Ban loud people — from our homes. Sure, worry about particulate matter (the “cool” words of 2015) but what of the prime minister — and Arvind Kejriwal, Arnab Goswami (Times Now), Rahul Shivshankar (News X) and Amish Devgan (Zee Business)? They shout so. Is it because they think that’s the only way they will be heard? Someone, please, inform them: The more you scream, the more we lower the volume or tune out. By the end of 2015, we’re seriously tuned out and turned off.

In December 2014, this column pompously announced, “In 2015, you’ll be seeing much more of Modi”. Didn’t require much foresight or the services of TV pandits who predict our daily (mis)fortunes (“the door to your house can also cause tensions”, News 24) to anticipate this.

From the January moment he welcomed President Barack Obama to a chai pe charcha at Delhi’s Hyderabad House (in his signature “soot-boot” — thank you, Rahul Gandhi) to his Lahore luncheon with PM Nawaz Sharif in December, we’ve travelled the world and the seven seas with the PM — China, Korea, Mongolia (the horse and the hat, remember?) and watched him deliver. Speeches. Especially to NRIs — Wembley. SAP Centre San Jose. That’s when he’s in his element, charismatic best.

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He spoke a great deal in Bihar during the election and television ensured we watched him. Narendra Modi is the first PM whose state campaign speeches are covered live by TV. Perhaps he would like to reconsider this: The Modi we saw was not Modi the PM, but Modi the candidate — and in that, he lost stature. Why would the PM pit himself against Lalu Prasad — and lose as Lalu mimicked and mocked him? Modi and his media manners need minding: By not speaking when he ought to — Dadri for one or in Parliament (except for a speech or two) — he’s missing the opportunity to be prime ministerial. Instead, we perceive him as a contemporary Phileas Fogg (Around the World in 80 Days) or an inveterate campaigner.

Rahul Gandhi, meanwhile, spoke everywhere from Parliament to Mt Carmel College — and is the better for it. Everyone wants to know: What did he do, or have, during his April 2015 sojourn?

Arvind Kejriwal. Since his victory in the Delhi polls February, he has given a monthly interview to Barkha Dutt (NDTV 24×7). He roundly criticises, even abuses, political opponents every fortnight (okay, week) at press conferences. He has used the Delhi Assembly as his pulpit, too. As a result, he’s managed to use the media (TV) to project himself as a national leader, one who treats the PM as his equal, better than any other chief minister.

Television news does scream and shout too much (think Sheena Bora murder case), too frequently, but it has had its moments — especially with interviews. This is one genre that does TV proud and in 2015, there
were several interviews that made the news worth watching.

Goswami is so much better on Frankly Speaking than he is on the super-boring Newshour. His interview with Smriti Irani was wonderful — she gave as good as she got, but he took it in his stride. Kiran Bedi’s interview with Ravish (NDTV India) doomed her and the BJP’s chances in the Delhi polls. On India Today (used to be Headlines Today), Rajdeep Sardesai’s seaside chat with Lalit Modi in Montenegro was really an “exclusive” that led to an internecine TV row, with Goswami dismissing it as “selfie journalism”. Ouch. Shah Rukh Khan’s interviews on his 50th birthday condemning “intolerance” put out the message almost casually.

And let’s not forget Deepika Padukone’s interviews on her bout of depression (Barkha Dutt, NDTV 24×7). It was brave and riveting television — you could see her, hear what she, her mother and her doctors had to say. All of them spoke gently.

Maybe that’s a lesson for TV news, 2016: To misquote W.B. Yeats completely, speak softly because you tread on my ears.

And sensibilities.

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com