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News TV’s turning points

What are elections without free speech? So,let’s celebrate the political analysis of the NDTV panelist...

Written by Saubhik Chakrabarti | April 25, 2009 12:23:37 am

What are elections without free speech? So,let’s celebrate the political analysis of the NDTV panelist — she was on a show that declared the second phase of elections as a turning point (of this more later) — who said,first,that sitting in Mumbai it seemed it was all happening elsewhere (sitting in Delhi,I knew it was all happening elsewhere; Delhi elections,like Mumbai elections,are later) and,second,that we are looking at sangeet and mehendi,but there’s suspense about the groom.

News TV can always be trusted to go where timorous journalism of other varieties dare not venture. So an evening prime time election show can,of course,coolly redefine political analysis. However,in that endeavour the Mumbai-based panelist’s contribution was far smaller than that of NDTV journalists who planned the show.

If you decide that the second phase is a turning point on the basis of precisely zero evidence,an interestingly strange discussion is bound to follow. What preceded this was interestingly strange,too.

NDTV correspondents spoke from what looked like deserted party ‘war rooms’,‘analysed’ party thinking (‘Congress is worried about Bihar’) and when it came to the hand-over,extravagantly praised the next guy: Who better to tell us about the Congress/BJP/Left than…(fill in the name of the relevant NDTV correspondent).

I am trying to think the print media equivalent of this: a Page 1 pointer that says Pg 3 carries an analysis of the second poll phase by X,Y and Z,the best political reporters in their beats. You won’t see a newspaper like this. But you have already seen it on news TV. As I said,news TV is unafraid.

Unafraid,as NDTV was,to broadcast a political analysis show that had an un-provable premise making unreasonable demands on panelists. Even the anchor seemed to have a tough time. Everyone was relieved when the viewer poll was taken. I learnt that 50-plus per cent of those watching had decided,presumably on the basis of what was said in the show,that the second phase was indeed a turning point.

Is an un-provable premise better than an utterly unsurprising observation? Put another way,was NDTV’s turning point worse than CNN-IBN’s oh-so-obvious point? The CNN-IBN in-house team (in the spirit of news TV’s self effacement,noted earlier,CNN-IBN calls its political team the best) sat around a nice-looking table and told us that post-poll negotiations will hold the key and that while the BJP is less problematic for potential allies now than earlier,the Congress still has an advantage in gathering friends. Oh,another point: there’s,did you know,a non-Congress/non-BJP third space. Are there people who need to watch news TV to know this at this point of time in the elections? What an intriguing demographic category they must constitute.

I suspect,barring very few exceptions,it’s going to be pretty much like this only till the actual numbers come. Among the exceptions till date: 1. Most parts of the interview when NDTV traveled with LK Advani in his campaign aircraft; the anchor asked good questions with long gaps,allowing Advani to think and talk. 2. One bit of CNN-IBN’s interview with Narendra Modi; when asked about 2002 riots,Modi smiled,stared and asked the journalist to think well of Gujarat,the journalist paused for just the right amount of time and asked the question again,Modi smiled again.

saubhik.chakrabarti@expressindia.com

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