Sep 16, 2006

Made to Order Protests for TV...

....and Related Musings.

Amit Varma directs readers to a post by the NDTV’s Madras Chennai correspondent Alaphia Zoheb on her blog about staged protests by IIT Madras students against Arjun Singh for sheer publicity value. The students who were protesting against reservations just wanted it to be made to order for TV. So they ‘innocently’ asked Ms. Zoheb for instructions. This annoyed the reporter because she had rushed to the IIT to cover the protests thinking they were genuine protests. Here is how these publicity hungry students were asking for instructions:

Then when we reached the venue of the "protest", much to my chagrin, the students started asking me what to do. "Should we sit or should we stand? Should we march or should we stay here? Should we call more students or is this enough? Should we burn the banner or shouldnt we?" [Reporter's Diary]

The proliferation of TV news channels has given ordinary people wild ideas to get noticed by the world for the heck of it or to get their grievances addressed.

Recently a contractor in Gaya protesting against non-payment of his bills, immolated himself in front of TV camera crews who were furiously shooting the act with some of them even instructing and helping - for better effects - the hapless man commit suicide. The man died and the FIR named some of the camera crewmembers as accused for abetting the crime. Now almost every news channel worth its weight had the footage of the immolation and aired them with various degrees of visible gore. For some reason (probably they didn’t have the tapes of the immolation) the Star News Channel suddenly took the moral high ground and started playing the moral police. They castigated the TV crew present there for egging and abetting the suicide and started pontificating on moral values. Now this - coming from a news channel, which has tabloidised TV journalism and taken it to nauseating depths - is too much for a hapless viewer to comprehend.

The news channels especially the English ones sometimes get into crusader mode. In the recent instances of miscarriage of justice in the Jessica Lal, Priyadharshini Mattoo and Nitish Katara murder cases, news channels like NDTV and CNN-IBN are in the forefront - and rightly so - demanding justice for them. Now to the aforementioned names they have also included Late Professor Sabharwal’s name after the outrageous attempt by the Madhya Pradesh BJP government to subvert the law in this case. If it were not for the electronic media, today Himanshu Sabharwal the late Professor’s son would have been running from pillar to post trying to get justice. If it were not for the electronic media - very easily - innocent people would have been implicated in the murder case.

NDTV organised candlelit vigils in support of retrial in the Lal, Mattoo and Katara cases. People were invited to attend these vigils. This perhaps encouraged ordinary public to stage their own rallies in support of the retrials. One got to see bunches of 30 to 50 persons holding placards demanding retrial. It was very obvious from the pictures that the demonstrations were staged solely to get their faces on TV and not out of any genuine concern. All that was needed was to get the people – intended on getting their faces on TV - together and then call up the TV offices and presto you were on TV!

Sometimes in their crusader zeal they lose all senses. Even interviews with the victims’ family members have “exclusive” stamped all over it as if they are on exclusive contracts with the news channels. The viewers are invited to send SMS messages in support of retrial. At each new development in these cases panel discussions are held and the family members of these victims are on the panel. Frankly this was getting too much for me and now I simply give such discussions a miss. This doesn’t mean I don’t want justice to be done to the victims but I think let the law take its own course and its time to have less of these particular cases on TV coz they have been flogged enough.

Another one of NDTV’s crusade is to fight terrorism. All that they are asking the viewer is to light a candle at 9.00pm every night and to resolve to keep communal harmony! Now should I weep or laugh!? How can people be so naïve and stupid?

Now the latest crusade of these news channels is to get the socialite Bina Ramani who has been charged with illegally serving liquor, destroying evidence, etc in the Jessica Lal murder case declared innocent. The viewers are kept up-to-date on an hourly basis on her. I know there is cutthroat competition among the news channels for TRPs but that doesn’t mean they lose their senses. Majority of the viewers are from simple middle-class families and are hardly interested in the ‘travails’ of socialites like Bina Ramani.

In our villages caste-system is very much alive and kicking. From time to time in the mainstream media we hear reports from villages of dalit women being paraded naked by upper-caste men obviously to settle scores or just to intimidate the dalits so they always remember who the real bosses are. This is all that is reported in the mainstream press and follow-ups are hardly done. Seldom cases get registered and hardly or never any convictions take place because most of the time the victims are bought off by money or coerced into silence.

I have a question for these urban centric news channels. Are these dalits Indians too? Don’t they have any human rights? Are they the children of a lesser god? If these news channels can devote at least half the crusader time on their channels for focusing on the plight of the violated dalit women and try to get them some justice, then India will be a better place for these people too to live in.

During the anti-reservation agitations in Delhi the TV cameras showing up at the demonstration venues or going live from there, only helped to rejuvenate the agitators greatly. They would raise slogans at top of their voice in favour of abolishing quotas, the caste-system, etc. Unfortunately the very people who were calling for abolishing caste-system then are today busy perpetrating it.

I am of the firm opinion that equitable development of India can only happen if the wretched caste-system in all its manifestations is completely rooted out. The Mahatma said India lives in its villages. He knew if our villages are to prosper, firstly the caste-system had to be eradicated and after that everything would fall into place. Unfortunately even after 59 years of independence, castism is alive and kicking in 21st century India.

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