Obsessive compulsive political disorder

Feb 17, 2014, 08:08 IST | Smita Prakash

It is quite natural for the media to focus on political news in an election year. However, the grand obsession with politics and political news has become quite oppressive. Every news story acquires political contours; grand meanings are read into anecdotal events.

Drank tea in a stall: is a common man. Wore a muffler for a month: is a commoner man. Wears stubble: is extremely common man who can’t even afford a daily shave. Wears one colour saree and rubber chappals: common to the point of poverty- stricken common woman. Gives an ‘exclusive’ (for an hour) interview to a high-profile journalist: is the best of the lot because he is accessible. Doesn’t give sound bites or exclusive interviews: is a snob and harbours long-term grudges, bad person. Quick. Come to a conclusion before that cup-o-noodles is ready.

Watch out for myopia of journalists as they hit the campaign trail. It is easy for embedded journalists
to get all starry-eyed extremely quickly. They are embedded with candidates and their bhakts for days on end, fed with stories of how dedicated the candidate is to his constituency, how he or she is the messiah of the masses. Election coverage is resource intensive, the pulls and pressures are tremendous, worthless interactions that politicians have with the electorate are romanticised just because a deadline is approaching and a story has to be ‘sexed up’, else it will get buried in the pile.

Channels with big budgets are going to splurge on meta-coverage events. Big events, bigger lights, huge audience, deep pocket advertisers, glitzy graphics, glamorous outfits for anchors who have pan-India urban fan following. And the topics for discussion will be, yes you guessed it right, nothing that deals with roti-kapda-sadak-makaan. Those don’t fit well with the glamorous setting. It will be about who tweeted what, who said what about whom, some new corruption scam, some sexist or racial comment, a riot 20 or 40 years ago that will be resurrected time and again.

Anything that can get the panel of old yellers agitated.

Newspapers have to fight for eyeball space in this election. They have to provide the juicy side bits that cannot be reported on TV. Notice how a lot of news is getting buried in all the election hysteria. For example, a small item appeared the other day that state governments are going easy on anti-Maoist operations these days, because Naxals are being used as foot soldiers by politicians in remote areas to intimidate voters, gather information and generally do leg work. This is being ignored even by regional newspapers.

Edit meetings are about politics. Nothing else. We are all groping in the dark. Nobody really knows what people want to see or read anymore. We just presume it is politics. And maybe Bollywood. And best is when they combine. You know, like Salman Khan flying kites with Narendra Modi. Tch! Beat that.

Switch from newspaper to television and back, all you get is political news. The old hands at journalism are busy hunting for centrist politicians to promote, and the young journalists are enamoured by the extreme Right or Left. It is always interesting to read about leaders who promise to break monopoly of the rich and bring about equality, hence AAP is the flavour of the season. The media’s obsession with the Aam Aadmi Party is basically fuelled by the curiosity that middle- class India has with an entity that is demolishing old-fashioned ideas of how governance is conducted. It is disturbing the comfort zone for some people who were cozy and secure. People are daring to ask questions of men and women who live in the VIP zone in Delhi. The nightmare has just begun for some in India’s political and financial capitals.

The nervousness is visible now in the two major parties that didn’t see this coming, or are pretending that it will go away. The glee and the smug piousness of party spokespersons, the toxic jabbering of political pundits who hop from studio to studio, the supercilious snobbishness of the elite power brokers, the know-all editors, the vox populi grabbed at petrol pumps and fish markets ‘aap kisko vote dainge?’ This is your diet for the next three months. Do you have the stomach for it?

Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on Twitter @smitaprakash

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