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Thursday, October 28, 2021

What a difference a day made

This election,TV was groping in the dark — but it was fun anyway

Written by Shailaja Bajpai |
May 20, 2009 12:01:34 am

It sang out across channels: ‘Singh is king,Singh is king’,a salute Manmohan Singh last heard after the nuclear vote of confidence last summer. Suddenly,he was the flavour of the day,once more. Aaj Tak neatly summed up the election result in a graphic of the ‘weakest Prime Minister’ with a highly developed gladiatorial physique seated in a chariot,bow and arrow in hand with Rahul Gandhi sounding the victory conch and Sonia Gandhi at the helm.  

Something of a surprise to the average viewer who had been led to expect from coverage before last week’s exit polls that UPA was just a nose ahead of NDA. Up to last Wednesday,the coverage had alternated between debates on campaign speeches — in particular,who said what about whom — and debates on who thought they might become prime minister in a coalition government not led by NDA (answer,everyone but Prakash Karat!). Why,we began to expect a cabinet of prime ministers from different political persuasions. 

Then,the exit polls or ‘projections’. These unanimously gave UPA the lead. Star News,CNN-IBN and NDTV crossed 200 for the UPA. This led to discussions on every conceivable political permutation to ‘Catch 272’ as Headlines Today winsomely put it,right up until Saturday 8 am when the countdown began. And then pouf! All the possibilities that had been explored in depth like a prehistoric excavation,were instantly buried under the decisive results.  

So,the polls had pointed in the right direction but none came close to the final tally. In the event,they did exercise abundant caution: Prannoy Roy issued a continuous health warning,saying a one per cent margin of error could result in 20 seats this way and that (NDTV 24 x7),Yogendra Yadav qualified everything he said continually (CNN-IBN) while Arnab Goswami projected numbers that were not based,he said,on an exit poll at all,so there (Times Now).   

Counting day: a clear difference between Hindi news and English news. The Hindi channels kept it simple: an anchor,a commentator,one political guest and let the numbers speak for themselves. English news,other than Headlines Today,had large expert panels reflecting every shade of opinion. Times Now had such a rainbow there were more than 10 people at a time. Variety yes,coherence no,as many spoke — or shouted— simultaneously. NDTV and CNN-IBN experimented with academics alongside journalists. A good idea,but did it work? Hmmmn. Meanwhile,Lok Sabha channel buzzed with activity — activity generated not by the election results but a spot of exercising with a former MP on Fitness Mantra: “happiness” it proclaimed “is a tonic — keep smiling”. It’s only after ten that it decided to join the count,that too in armchair fashion with Suneet Tandon. 

Colour schemes and graphics: crucial,what with multiple numbers,rolling text,breaking news all at once. On looks our vote goes to News X (blue and white chart) and Zee News (blue and grey for a variation) as the most eye-soothing,CNN-IBN as the most traditional (blue,red and white),NDTV the most innovative (pale gold and black) and India TV,true to its brand,the most shocking in red,black and white. The graphics were best on NDTV. 

In an election show,the first thing that matters are the numbers: as always,each channel had a different count — DD was particularly slow and Times Now was behind CNN-IBN,Headlines Today or NDTV — but since the leads were clear very early on it didn’t seem to matter.   

The magic box,screen call it what you will,made an impressive debut on all channels. It was a touch away from the itching fingers of TV anchors — though it didn’t always respond to stimuli. NDTV’s touch map was an eco-friendly green but you couldn’t see anything. Still,it was a good beginning. 

On Sunday,Praful Patel suggested on NDTV 24×7 that TV news coverage of the elections had been ‘entertainment’. That it was: we enjoyed the tamasha,but did you ever feel,during the entire coverage that you knew what the mood was in the country?

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

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