Friday, May 15, 2009

Some opinion of TV journalism in India

I watched the election discussions in the telly for the last two days.

I used to watch it at the time of last general elections. That time, I remember, we used to have a lot of panelists from corporate India- like the head of Morgan Stanley in India, and people like Gurcharan Das, along with politicians like Arun Jaitely, Jairam Ramesh etc. And Rajdeep and other anchors will side with the corporate guy, attacking the politician, making fun of them, etc etc.

Ever since the UPA came to power in that election, my TV watching came down. Especially the news channels. I started to feel that these TV journalists are not journalists at all. Starting from Rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt to the wastes in Headlines Today, Aaj Tak etc. It is like reading the Times of India. I wonder why there are so many commonalities between these channels and the TOI kind of reporting.

Anyway: why I stopped to watch this again day before yesterday is: 1) I had no other plans 2) The panel had P. Sainath, Ram Guha and Yogendra Yadav in one channel, and N. Ram in another. These people, whether I agree with their views or not, are serious journalists (not Guha - who is an entertaining historian), and do not normally appear in TV: the TV is happy with Shekhar Gupta and Veer Sanghvi type of journalists, and getting Morgan Stanley MBAs to comment on politics, who can make a program "entertaining", than those like Sainath, who would be mainly tirading about the TV journalists themselves. I was surprised to see Sainath in Rajdeep's panel. Perhaps he thought, through TV, he can spread the point he has been trying to make, that perhaps he can correct the TV journalism. (About the Morgan Stanley guy missing this time: did he lose his job ?)

I feel that he failed in his task - if it was one - emphatically. The pace of TV journalism - NDTV/CNN-IBM style- doesnt help serious discussions. Sainath's points were deeply at cross with the crass generalizations that Sardesai tried to make, and as soon as Sainath starts explaining them, just after his first sentence, Sardesai will take the tail of that sentence and jump the gun: he will ask the next panelist: "do you agree with it?". I felt that Sainath couldnt get across any of his points across.

I am also reminded of how distant these TV journalists are from reality. Yogendra was saying, based on his survey's statistics, that even in Central elections, the activities and the image of the state government counts more than that of central government, and this trend has been increasing. At this time: Sagarika Ghosh was absolutely surprised to hear that the voters do not give much thought to the Nuclear Deal issue. Yogendra completely brushed aside that this issues like this will make the voter change his vote.

If you are aware of a few average common folk who vote, it can be easily guessed that no one would care much about the nuclear deal and its repercussions. When the deal was an issue, when it appeared in the newspapers, they might have read about it (Yogendra's statistics say only 50% read papers, and only 50% watch TV), but would have soon forgot it. Normal folk just "glimpse" through newspapers. They might read more on things that interest them (many a times just to feel convinced about their convictions more and more by selectively reading the news), but I completely fail to see how such a thing like Nuclear Deal can affect the voter's memory so much that he makes sure that he will vote for x party in the next election because of this issue. Its so simple, straightforward, common logic. And it made Sagarika - one of the country's foremost TV journalist - surprised.

Lets come to Prannoy Roy himself. The man who shows a little more grace. He started yesterday's session with Kerala: he said his exit polls predict 10:10 in Kerala for LDF:UDF, LDF's tally coming down from 17 last time. Then he went on to analyse the results further, saying: the LDF:UDF vote for Muslims is 45:55 and for Christians is 26: 60 (or some similar number), and this loss of votes among minorities is what is costing the LDF 7 seats.

Let's forget for once that LDF won 18 seats last year (Prannoy must have missed the CPM-Independent Sebastian Paul). But, saying that a vote ratio of 45:55 among Muslims and 26:60 among Christians is what is leading to LDF's loss from last time is so naive, if you know at least the basics of Kerala politics. Traditionally, for decades, the Christians, Muslims and upper caste Hindus have been voting en masse for UDF. This unity lead to the fall of the EMS government in 1959, and the UDF has always won Christian/Muslim majority areas like Mavelikkara, Moovattupuzha, Ponnani and Manjeri, by large margins. It is pure as daylight the fact that a vast majority of the religious minorities in Kerala vote for UDF: nobody will dispute it. But with the rise of Pinarai Vijayan as the CPM state Secretary, things have started to change, with him trying to woo Muslims to vote for LDF by aligning with some hardline Muslim leaders. That contributed to the LDF win in Manjeri last time. However the UDF won Ponnani by a landslide, as always.

Last time's LDF wave was due to the wrath of the people against the horrible factionalism, nepotism and family inheritance within the UDF, in addition to a poorly performing, weak AK Antony government in the state. This, again is quite indisputable, if you know the politics in the state. This time, the wave simply does not exist! So historically, the Muslims and the Christians vote en masse for the UDF, which is my point. If LDF wins 45% of Muslim vote this time, I would say it has improved its tally there. And the Christian vote remains more or less the same.

Of course, Prannoy and other TV journalists cannot be expected to go to these levels.

For example: about Sheila Dixit winning in Delhi for 3 times in a row, the analysis (between Sardesai and Guha) was that the Delhi populace - with a strong urban middle class, a variegated crowd that includes South Indians and Foreigners (according to Guha) - now looks for English speaking, Convent educated leaders to rule them than the old Madanlal Khuranas. In my opinion, this is very silly. Statistics shows that the Congress won in Delhi because of the support from the poorer section of the populace, not the "variegated middle class that want convent educated politicians". Sardesai's thesis falls apart here, and yet, I wonder if the variegated middle class actually want "convent educated politicians" to rule them.

They also made a similar analysis about Bombay (that Shiv Sena has been losing for some time now, or some such), and wanted to generalize the "convent educated English speaking" crap. Sainath begged to differ, started to explain his point, at the end of first sentence of which, Sardesai again jumped the gun, and shot something for the next panelist.

However, the silver lining is the fact that we have people like Sainath coming to newsroom now. That means Sardesai wanted to have a (seemingly) balanced panel (notwithstanding the screwing up of Corporate financial sector, which might have made the bankers too busy for the newsroom). IMHO, this was different from the time of the last general elections, and even that of the Mumbai attack (when celebrities and candles ruled the TV). But I wonder whether it will go anywhere better from there.


Rahul said...

Interesting post! I'll be watching out for the results as they come in saturday!

scorpiogenius said...

These analysts need a job, thats why they are wasting their time and ours in front of these cameras. The channels have to fill in their hours and they air such crappy analysis like Muslims voted for X, Hindus voted for Y and so on... Interestingly they would've had a totally different opinion before the results were out.

Jiby said...

hi, excellent post! am glad to see somebody whose views converged with mine on the counting day tv coverage.

i have listened to sainath's lectures and hearing the way he hit out at tv journalism i was surprised to see him on ibn. but i immediately understood that he was trying to put his thoughts across to a wider medium. like you said i think he failed, bcoz of the limited airtime he got. his thoughts i think resonated only with people like us who know what he stands for. i am glad somebody else feels the same about guha too!

about kerala, what i feel is that the ldf lost a lot of votes from people who believed in the left ideology. many people, i talked to voted against cpi-m just to teach pinarayi vijayan a lesson.