The more media we have, the less use they have for the North East.
RITU RAJ KONWAR
WHAT is it like, I wonder, to live on the fringe of the country's consciousness, being able to claim space in no media except that funded by the Government. From Vinod Mehta in Outlook, to the most teeny-bopperish anchor on the satellite channels, everybody harped on four States going to the polls. Even when it is your big day, umpteen new channels are busy rehashing the previous days exit polls relegating your State to a little window showing incoming results in the corner of the screen. Of the five that actually went to the polls, the one where vote turnout was the highest by far, as high as 75 per cent, rated the least attention.
The poll process seemed longer than previous years, this time because there was so much media overkill. By the time it ended, even kindergarten children and household pets would have been able to recognise the chief ministerial contenders in Delhi, Rajasthan or Madhya Pradesh. But can adult voters in the country recall the names of the leading chief ministerial contenders in Mizoram? Do we know what they look like? If puppets depicting them popped up on a news channel, would we know whom they were meant to represent? For that matter, do you know the present chief minister by name or face or both, the man who has just been re-elected for a second term?
The more media we have, the less use they have for the North East. No advertiser is targeting that region, and with few seats at stake, no national party is losing sleep over these States either. Every now and then during the one-hour discussion on the Mizoram assembly election on Doordarshan (DD) News, the panellist who had been labelled as "Northeast expert" would say plaintively when asked which party would put up the best showing, "It's difficult to say, there has been no exit poll or pre poll survey here." None of the four private satellite news channels which did exit polls touched the North East. Their viewers, they calculated, would not be sufficiently interested to merit the investment. Ditto for the big newspapers and magazines who did pre-poll surveys.
When the results were coming in and long, unfamiliar names had to be pronounced, anchors handled it in two ways: either by tripping up constantly and apologising, or by pronouncing them with slow, deliberate carefulness so as to not trip up. They've been tucked out of sight and out of mind for so long in their corner of the country that we all find them slightly foreign. The newspapers the next morning simple treated the results as an also-ran story. The Times of India made it a tiny news digest on page one, the others grudgingly allowed the Mizoram election headline to make it to just above the fold, except for the virtuous The Hindu which led with it.
But there is a positive side to being out of mind. The politicians there were not taped secretly, or questioned to death about their record, or badgered ceaselessly by noisy reporters. There was no relentless build up to their polling day, it came and went practically unnoticed. As they watched Digvijay Singh's smile wear thin, Dilip Singh Judeo's bravado falter, and Vasundhara Raje Scindia gag on repeated jokes about her dry-cleaned chiffons, the candidates in Mizoram may well have been grateful for the neglect.
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DD News has got its act together to the point where it now spends as much time on in-house promos and advertising spots as its private sector rivals. Which news channel do you turn to when you want credible news, asks one of the promos. I don't know about credible news but I'll tell you which one I turn to when I want unhurried news: DD News.
The advantage that the ruling party has with its timed-for-the-elections channel is the amount of time it gives them. When the country's law minister temporarily turned defence lawyer for his fellow minister caught in an act of corruption, he did it live on television without apology, and had his defence amplified several times over thanks to the multiplicity of channels. But it was DD News which gave him the most extended platform. First he was carried unhurriedly on Samachar Plus, DD News' 9 o'clock show anchored by Deepak Chaurasia , then he was carried equally unhurriedly on the Rajat Sharma show which followed.
The ambience on this channel is that of smiling, sari-clad indulgence to all who appear on it. That includes panel guests discussing developments such as the "Gorshkov deal", which the next morning's newspapers not only gave less space to, but also said that Russia had denied finalising. DD news is also wholesome: it tells you about the strides forward the country is making and has headlines you would not find anywhere else, such as the Prime Minister telling us that it is not nice to compare Mahatma Gandhi with Babasaheb Ambedkar. It makes space for its news centres in the States on a rotation rather than news basis, and whatever reason its correspondents might have been chosen for, being telegenic is not one of them.
The unhurried tenor can be infectious. One morning during the round up of newspaper headlines, its man in Hyderabad chose to sip a cup of tea as he told you the day's top stories in Andhra Pradesh's newspapers. He was also reluctant to let go of his moment in the limelight, choosing to narrate a long story taken off the Internet, which had absolutely nothing to do with the morning's headlines. Now that DD's State correspondents have got used to the luxury of a 24-hour platform, anchors in the studio in Delhi has trouble shutting them up.
In many ways, the wholesomeness is refreshing. You have a Sanskrit news bulletin which is stupefying until the novelty begins to wear off, and a daily rural news bulletin which is about as exciting as the one Star News features in its efforts to suck up the Government. But it is a welcome break from the reruns of the Moet and Chandon champagne parties that NDTV ran on both its channels, and that Nina Pillai trilled about in the Indian Express. Do you want to watch free publicity for the Government or for India's growing celebrity circuit? Take your pick.
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