Not just a TRP game

Sanjay Kapoor

In April thisyear, when Anna Hazare chose to fast at Jantar Mantar, TV channels went on an overdrive. Outdoor broadcasting vans and footsoldiers of the channels, armed with cameras and mikes, converged at the site of the “Gandhian” fast. The channels provided wall-to-wall coverage of the anti-corruption movement. The reportage was manifestly blighted by exaggeration and manipulation of images — for instance, camera angles were routinely used to make the crowds seem bigger than they were. Hysterical, breathless reporting lent an accentuated sense of urgency to the cause. It was this kind of media coverage, too, that made the government readily agree to talks with the civil society representatives on the drafting of the Jan Lokpal Bill. 

Clearly, media and the agitating activists had sold a lemon to the gullible masses and the government. Coverage of the April event rankled many professionals, who worried over the brazen manner in which ethical underpinnings of journalism were not just being mocked at, but brazenly violated. There was some introspection and soul searching, but the guilty news channels remained immune to any change. 

When Anna Hazare went on a fast again in August, news channels and a few newspapers resorted to the same old tactics of exaggerating manifold the support that existed. They not only reported the events, but also began manufacturing them. And how? Phone calls were made to ordinary people to assemble in key points in Delhi, and also in other parts of the country. Text messages were sent in thousands about the protests and demonstrations.Times Nowof the Times of India Group was conducting itself as a media partner of the event, faithfully disseminating the programme of the civil society activists, where they will assemble, what they will do and so on. 

Also, the reporting and discussions were so heavily loaded in favour of the activists and against the government that it was easy to wonder why the channels were behaving like this. Surely, their hearts were not bleeding for the anti-corruption brigade. Normally, TV channels do not air anything until they are assured of decent audience ratings. Expectedly, therefore, news channels do not dwell much on development issues and the rural areas. News was packaged for urban consumers, and that meant reporting on issues of
their concern. 

However, an article on The Hoot website (www.thehoot.org, August 19, 2011) shows that during the seven-daytamasha, news channels (all of them) earned advertising revenue worth only Rs 175 crore. This revenue included both prime time and non-prime time coverage. Blanket breaking news and blanket news coverage got a substantial portion of this revenue. We have no clue about how the accruals were divided among different channels, but clearly, this would not be enough to warrant such coverage. No marketing head would go overboard till someone showed them the money — and that too serious money. After all, reporting of this nature is serious and expensive business; it just cannot be driven by moral reasons to fight corruption. 

In fact, corruptionis in the DNA of many media outlets as they have been funded through dubious money. Surely, they would suffer the most if a strong anti-corruption body is created in the country. So what, really, is their game? Surely, it’s not just about TRP ratings, but a lot more. 

There may not be smoking-gun evidence to show the flow of dubious funds for reportage of the Anna project, but there is considerable money floating around to trigger political instability in the system and somehow stop the  probe into some of the recent scams. Indeed, not just the politicians involved, but top industrial houses, too, may come to grief if the investigations are taken to their
logical conclusion. 

The 2G probe is just the beginning of this unravelling. More is to follow. The only way it can be stalled in its tracks is by triggering political instability. Remember the Jain Hawala scam days in 1996, which led Congress to a split, and later, a walloping in elections. Later, the Hawala scandal died a quiet death after the Narasimha Rao government was voted out. A similar crisis is being created in Andhra Pradesh where 26 MLAs recently resigned to bring down the government and somehow stop the corruption investigation into Jagan Mohan Reddy’s phenomenal wealth. 

It may sound bizarre, but could the corrupt have financed the anti-corruption campaign?    

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: SEPTEMBER 2011

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