It was death anniversary of Indira Gandhi – October 31. Tributes poured in by different individuals and groups according to the affiliation they had. Among the lot was one unusual group – bunch of Hindi news channels (some English too!). This bunch has extended its appetite recently. The eyeball game is breaking all the barriers and for the moment its absolute reign of sensationalism. Special shows on legendary figures are the latest fad. But here is the catch.
If the figure had a normal death, it is not likely to be promoted much as the story will not be saleable. So figures like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, JL Nehru, Jayaprakash Narayan and Ram Manohar Lohia are not on the cards. Even Subhash Chandra Bose is seen as something stale as his disappearance mystery has been repeated so many times that no ‘juice’ is left if we go by the standard newsroom language today.
But if the leader was assassinated - it makes a perfect story for the editorial sentiments prevailing now.
So we had many shows on Mahatma Gandhi this year on his birth anniversary and the interesting thing was most of them were talking about his assassination (on the day he was born) delving into gory details like how the conspiracy was hatched, what sort of ammunition was used, specifics of the bullets and so on. Hindi channels were leading the pack. Not even a single show was devoted to discuss the Mahatma’s ideals and what happened to his vision of India. India revisited the Mahatma through the successful ‘August Jan Lokpal’ movement but this bunch of media ‘hawkers’ riding on the wave of debased sensationalism sought to exploit a commercial gain even in that.
Earlier this year, Rajiv Gandhi’s death anniversary was the same story. Editorial planners put every effort to make the shows as high on fear quotient as possible. Finding bizarre details into every minute of the day Rajiv was assassinated reached to the extreme level. Heightened politicking on mercy pleas of Rajiv’s killers and this being the 20th death anniversary gave silly looking ideas like 20 lapses that led to Rajiv’s assassination or validity of the mercy petitions. A gruesome assassination by international terrorists - it might have thousands lapses who knows. Some of the shows went even into the territory of inviting debates on ‘trial by media’.
Today and the last day it was about Indira Gandhi. And most of the shows were based on last hours of her life with reconstruction of events showing how she was killed – minute by minute details. Most of the shows had names based on a line of one of the speeches she made where she talked about her life and every drop of her blood to be used for the motherland. This line was used to headline the shows based purely on her assassination. Also, Indira talking about her death in her speeches was extensively used to contextualize these assassination based shows. Don’t we use word ‘death’ to qualify sincerity and commitment of our words – like we says even if I were to die today I will breath last taking my motherland’s name? Again, not a single show was focused on why Indira was called Iron-lady of India though each of them had promos slugged ‘XYZ-blah blah----Indira, the Iron-lady of India’! What rubbish!
And this fad is just not limited to the Indian figures. It is international. This bunch of Hindi news channels (and some English, too) can claim to have international news in their day plans at least here. (Though the expertise and knowledge of international happenings is largely a sterile domain for them) So brutal murder of Gaddafi is repeated again and again to the extent that watchdogs have to intervene to restrict airing of clips, otherwise who knows for how long the mad rush to google and air the most gruesome clip would continue. For 2/3 days, there was no major news on Libya except the few seconds of clips showing last moments of Gaddafi’s life. Not even a single show was on what would be the road ahead for Libya. Not even a single show was on the plight of war widows, orphaned children or raped women though Gaddafi’s female bodyguards were prominently on air.
We had many of our media representatives in Egypt during the Tahrir Square uprising as it was visually so strong. But as the movement prolonged and it seemed the solution was not near, all of them packed up and came back. Pity us. None had the knowledge and the expertise to read the writing on the wall. Just few days later, Hosni Mubarak announced to step down. That was a historic day and not a single Indian media worker was there. Pity them. Some shows were made using inputs from wires but only on the night when it had happened. There were no gory visuals on offer as the transition after Mubarak stepped down was quiet and bloodless. So no gory clips to be googled! So no more extended shows! Egypt is yet to find the road to democracy with recent surge in violence but we had not even a single show on this bunch of news channels discussing the road ahead for Egypt when Mubarak had stepped down.
Yuck. The list is long. There are many more such fads having a sustained run on this bunch of news channels.
In an age when one news channel from another can only be identified from the ‘logo’, this mad rush has a future to continue. Expect some more crass follies in the garb of information empowerment.