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Twitter Alert

Why television must learn to contend with social media

TV has dominated election coverage ever since Prannoy Roy staked out the space but after the early exhibition matches of 2013,it appears that it must learn to share power with Twitter. Traditional media stayed traditional,politely pondering if NaMo bettered RaGa or the other way round. Those handles stretched the limits of their radicalism,while social media became a lively battleground for the raffishly handled #Feku and #PappuCII. Election coverage is no longer a spectator sport.

In the Nineties,the right had taken first mover advantage on the internet,using it to consolidate a support base in the diaspora. Now,its Twitter warriors have again shown that they’re the fastest draws on the electronic frontier. The Congress,which is beginning to focus on internet media at last,had just created the #Feku hashtag disparaging Narendra Modi when the right wing outflanked them,snatched the hashtag and turned it on Rahul Gandhi. The latter may have won the Mr Congeniality award with his CII address but lost much in the Twitter wars.

Off the internet,Modi is being helped by a strangely unsceptical media,which seems to believe that it must report exhaustively on anything which moves or even threatens to do so. Modi opened his hand with an address to the students of a Delhi commerce college. Since there were TV cameras from wall to wall,it was taken to be the launch of his election campaign. And it forged a beneficial relationship between Modi and the camera,which is flourishing whenever an organisation somehow related to business brings them together.

In 48 hours,Modi has blitzed three such love-ins. He has entertained the “ladies” of FICCI (sounds deliciously archaic; wonder what women think of it) with tere paas chapati hai stories. Weird tales that suggest that his understanding of women is strictly theoretical or mythical,and that he urgently needs to meet some living women. Or maybe not. One did not see the FICCI ladies objecting to this stereotyping. I didn’t see television anchors and talking heads pointing out that Modi’s speech was sexist and fit only for politics prior to the suffragette movement. Twitter and Facebook did grouse a bit,but maybe the real Indian woman identifies with hot chapati stories.

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Modi also addressed a business forum in Kolkata,but the big one was the multimedia love-feast organised by Network 18. TV,blow by blow Web updates,social media,the works,with Modi hosted by Sanjay Pugalia,one of the first television journalists,and the discussion led by media entrepreneur Raghav Bahl. With no trace of journalistic scepticism,this was a promo. The guest was so much at ease that he asked after Sagarika Ghosh and Rajdeep Sardesai. It’s sobering to recall that Sardesai had done excellent street-to-street reporting on the Gujarat violence of 2002.

Flaky stories are frequently projected by sections of the media. Their peers put them in perspective. For instance,yesterday’s leak from the Pentagon’s Defence Intelligence Agency suggested that North Korea had credible weapons delivery capability. Once upon a time,they had insisted that Iraq had WMDs,the casus belli legitimising invasion. CNN’s Piers Morgan Live focused on what mattered: why was an inconclusive report declassified and circulated? The columnist Nick Kristof,heralded to the show by his tweets on North Korea,talked of a weird society where every home has a wall-mounted speaker for dispensing anti-American propaganda. Gen Wesley Clark politely pointed out that despite weirdness,the nation’s behaviour is coldly calculating. And Bill Richardson,former US ambassador to the UN,denied that North Koreans are weird at all. It was a TV show deflating hype about a breaking story which was trending on Twitter. Unusual,isn’t it?

First published on: 13-04-2013 at 12:17:43 am
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