In covering Anna, TV seems to have shed its critical faculties

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Daily Mail
Sep 19, 2011
V, the People of India

At one point in his column (The Topiwala Camera) Anil Dharker says, “Am I the only one disturbed at the supercharged atmosphere (almost amounting to mass hysteria) that surrounds us now on the issue of corruption?” No Mr Dharker, you’re not the only one upset at the vehemence of the attack on corruption. You are in good company—the company of corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and officials. The fact remains that if the scourge of corruption has to be tackled, it has to be done the Anna way, non-violent but with firm resolve.

D.L. Narayan, Visakhapatnam

The question one must address is, should a news organisation report news as it happens, or should it take on the role of an activist? As I see it, the minute a news channel takes sides and becomes an active participant, it’s no longer an impartial observer. By asking people to send tweets and messages in support of the agitation, they too are participating in the agitation instead of just reporting it. How then can we possibly trust their analysis?

Suresh Kamath, Edison, US

Apropos ‘reporting’ the Anna episode, the electronic media hasn’t done anything different. Television has largely built itself on a foundation of ‘soundbites’ and two-minute capsules. Most TV debates have opinionated participants in any given discussion rather than unbiased facilitators. We viewers often have to discount their views and opinions, as we well know they are driven by political or other motives.

Manish, Mumbai

I agree with Dharker. It’s ironic to see the new-age Gandhians falling prey to what Orwell predicted as “fifteen minutes fame”. Many a person in the crowd enjoyed the 13-day affair as if it was the World Cup.

V.N.K. Murti, Pattambi

What’s wrong with biased reporting? Human beings are much more than their professional selves. Journalists have a right to feel sympathetic towards a cause bigger than the niceties of their profession.

Shantam Prem, Chandigarh

The broadcast media these days is all about sensationalism. News is no longer analytical and sober; nor investigative. Panel discussions are often cacophonic, just some people trying to shout each other down, and often pure nonsense. We can’t rely on some channels to have an unbiased view. The best we can do is watch some of the better programmes, if there remain any, and then try and form our own opinion.

Y. Naveen, Delhi

Mr Dharker articulates ideas that many of us share. There are many who are equally disturbed at TV’s handling of the Anna movement. The narrow definition of corruption that Team Anna endorses, and other questions raised also bother many TV viewers.

Nandini Dutta, New Delhi

Aug 27, 2011
01:53 PM

Yes, the Lokpal institution will require a monumental machinery to keep it going. Besides it may further add to the woes of oppression due to corruption.

The TV coverage- direction and content - is conditioned by the need for Trps.

R V Subramanian
Gurgaon, India
Aug 27, 2011
02:23 PM

Being featured on Page 3 is now passe. Madhur Bhandarkar should do a film on the Wafadars who flit tirelessly from one channel's studios to another as the nation's conscience keepers. Even while on vacation in London, the day's schedule seems tailored not to miss the evening fix back home.

ashok lal
mumbai, India
Aug 27, 2011
08:33 PM

I really appreciate the help of TV Channels for a just public cause irrespective of the views of this author, thereby upholding democracy.

Raleigh, United States
Aug 28, 2011
02:45 AM

The aam journalist has become so complacent with the status-quo-corruption that 'chaltha hai' is the key-word.

Unless the mind-set - that nothing can be changed anyway, so why bother - changes, the country will be doomed by white-collar looting.

Male Unblocked
Chennai, India
Aug 28, 2011
12:44 PM

Thanks,  Mr. Dharker for articulating so well the ideas that many of us share.  You are not alone, there are many I know who are equally disturbed observing the media flared Anna movement. The narrow definition of the term 'corruption' that Anna supporters endorse and other questions you have raised equally bother many silent television viewers. The media shows that everyone is against corruption, I keep wondering where are the perpetrators gone! 

Nandini Dutta
New Delhi, India
Aug 28, 2011
03:11 PM

Exactly what is your locus standii, Mr. Dharker (bore mut kar)? My guess is Page 3. Count your minutes on TV as blessings you get. Another boring elitist who thinks he knows how the mango-people ought to live and conduct their lives. What you guys don't like is really you have been shown your place. Just like Jinnah did not like Gandhi usurping the freedom movement with his connect with the unwashed masses, so does the present "elite" not like Anna suddenly replicating something similar.

Ms. Nandini - why blame the media? Net-net it is good we have the media we have. It is no longer the preserve of the elite and the opinion makers living in their bubbles.

The true democratization of India might have begun and that is really worry of this brigade. What I saw in the media (TV, Newspaper, etc.) is that most of your brigade has been co-opted, even if momentarily.

Arun Maheshwari
Bangalore, India
Aug 28, 2011
03:32 PM

So what is wrong with that Mr. Dharkar? Human beings are much more than their professional selves. Journalists have also the right to feel sympthetic towards some bigger cause.

Shantam Prem
chandigarh, India
Aug 28, 2011
04:52 PM

Every media entity  has its own bias in fabour or against personalities or issues. That is an inescabpable fact of life- like it or not. The media do not survive in vacuum, it has to attract pelf for its power. That leads not always to easy choices.

The coverage of Anna phenomenon in natioanal media was not uniformly laudatory. By & large,  the print media  took a particularly vicious anti- Anna stance. But I believe Anil Dharker's complain  is about national English language news TV.  Coverage by  prominently nationally present news channels has been by & large fair in the sense that they gave space for the for or against proptagonists, notwithstanding channels' biases oozing out. One channel was so obviously out to manufacture opinion instead of disseminate it.

Many may have problem with the 24x7 satuartion carpet bombing coverage as if the whole world stopped at the the Ramlila Grounds & nothing happened outside of  it. But then that is the nature of the beast. And the issue being what it was, it may not be such a bad thing after all.

Aug 28, 2011
07:33 PM

tv media is nowadays pure sensationalism. news is no longer analytical nor investigative. panel discussions are pure non sense and only shouting matches. sad because we cannot rely on these channels to have a unbaised view. best we can do is watch all the news channels and come to your own conclusion. most of the channels have not reported other equally important news like the floods in various parts of the country. is human life not that important anymore. recently brave soldiers were killed defending our country it was not even reported in the ticker. instead were all the comments on twitter. Pathetic state of affairs.

y. naveen
delhi, India
Aug 28, 2011
07:44 PM

Topiwala Cameras are showing thousands and thousands of people wearing Topies with Burning Candles at India Gate peacefuly celebrating the First Step towards Corruption Free India.

a k ghai
mumbai, India
Aug 28, 2011
09:31 PM

Nobody denies the fact that the media is considered better than the politicains for the sole reason that they suck less. The suck still, anyway. It is pretty evident that media was chasing TRPs, and some of them seem to have moved away from their explicit pro-Congress stand. Does Mr. Dharker not find it amusing that the fountainheads of corruption are the one educating us that the Bill is "their" responsibility?

Now, coming to the second last para:

1. The machinery required will be huge for the simple reason that corruption permeates the system so wide and so deep. Is Anna to be held responsible for that?

2. The Anna team had repeatedly acknowledged that their version needed tempering and were more than happy to make adjustments.

3. Talking about dictatorial tendencies, the game of upmanship was kicked-off by the government when they moved Anna in the company of Kalmadi and Raja.

4. Does Mr. Dharker not find it offending that known scoundrels like Laloo and amar Singh are part of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the bill.

5. Even when the agitation was on, the government was conveniently brushing the PAC report on spectrum scam under the carpet. Who is to trust the UPA's commitment?

6. As for your last comment, it sounds funny. If CBI, CVC etc. are not functioning, is that a reason good enough not to have a Lokpal?

I rest my case.

The Irreverent Indian
Online, India
Aug 28, 2011
10:55 PM

 I am in complete agreement with the observations made by 'The Irreverant Indian' below. I want to ask Mr. Dharkar if he ever took sides without any logic or thought or not? Well, I know for sure the answer, when he was editing a Newspaper in early 1990s!

There are occasion when the heart rules over the mind. Some (or is it many?!) of the people felt that they were visiting temples/churches/mosques etc., with the sheer weight of moral authority and the timely thought of Annaji. If I had to cite an example else where - the Iraqi war by Americans - even the British behaved the same way without even having experienced the effect of 'Saddam, the dictator' either to the people or their nation and later it was put to people's thought whether the war by UK was justified?

The Lokpal Bill is just a beginning - just one method of fighting the corruptive system embedded in our democracy! There are other ills that need attention as well - can Mr. Dharkar take the role of Annaji in any? The Government, by being not transperant in its dealings in joint drafting committee, has taught Anna team to be more rigid! All is fair in love and war!! 

Pavuluri SurendraNath
Hyderabad, India
Aug 29, 2011
01:56 AM

"no one wants to talk about how the television medium itself is dictating what we think, what we say and when we say it."

Television coverage of events and discourse, whether it is good or evil, is a very large part of our perceptions. It changes what it covers, but we have to accept it as our new reality. As Marshall McLuhan said some years ago, "The medium is the message."

Dallas, United States
Aug 29, 2011
12:22 PM

<< Am I the only one disturbed at the supercharged atmosphere (almost amounting to mass hysteria) that surrounds us now on the issue of corruption? >>

No Mr. Dharker, you are not the only one upset at the vehemence of the attack on corruption...you are in good company..the company of corrupt politicians, bureaucrats and officials, people with fat offshore bank accounts, sarkari intellectuals and of course a handful of pseudo-intellectuals like the esteemed Mahesh Bhatt.

The fact remains that if the scourge of corruption has to be tackled, it has to done the Anna way, non-violent but firm in resolve. Taking of ideological concerns is akin to preaching non-violence during war.

Visakhapatnam, India
Aug 29, 2011
01:20 PM

Mr Dharker...this is surely not about Debonair issue....this is about what people feel...and if 99.99999999999999% of the people feel the same then 0.000000000000001% feels differently how does it matter? I am serious not in anyway rediculing you...you need to ponder if you are arguing for the right cause ......media for a change has been on the right side......some channels where the motivated anchors were putting for congress defence surely will have to be pensioned out by the congress party & UPA govt, I am sure people have identified them and would be out of circulation in short time....in fact the movement they are on the channel people changeover or switch off......and you know as ex media person...its all about circulation & TRP.......anyway good luck!

hyd, India
Aug 29, 2011
05:30 PM

 Mr. Dharker I fully agree with the contents. Technology marvels. But it ironic to see
the new age so called Gandhians falling prey to what Orwell predicted
"Fifteen minutes fame." Many a person in the crowd enjoyed the thirteen day affair as if it was a World cup cricket, with "Cheer leaders".

pattambi, India
Aug 30, 2011
05:04 PM

What do you want TV to favour? 

Islamic terrorism?

When the media sucks up to Islamism, do you whine?

Get lost, will you?

Mohammed Othman
Aurangabad, India
Aug 30, 2011
06:43 PM

Let’s not confuse cause and effect here. Sure, media was taking a stand (as it always does all the time) and sure there was breathless coverage but that was because the viewers demanded it. Please see the increase in viewership of all news channels in this period and you will see that TV channels were just faithfully responding to what their viewers were asking for and interested in. Some pro-government news channels tried ignoring it at start by blacking out Anna's visit to Rajghat on 15th August, but their viewers compelled them to jump into the fray and they were left with no choice but to cover the movement on a sustained basis.

Electronic media in this instance was not doing anything different from what it has always done. News television in India has largely built its narrative by focusing on "sound bytes" and 2-minute capsules. More often than not, most TV anchors are opinionated participants in any given discussion rather than being unbiased facilitators. We, the viewers, have learnt to discount their opinions, questions, tone and conclusions as everybody knows that they are many times driven by extraneous considerations. However, TV remains a highly interactive medium where a discerning viewer can see the facts and reach conclusions after discounting the known biases of participants in question.

The real reason why "page 3 intellectuals" (Mr. Dharker is just one of their representatives) are angry in this particular case is because for a change, the narrative was shaped by a bottom-up spontaneous movement which took people like Mr. Dharker by complete surprise and rendered them irrelevant in this discourse. The concerted effort to pull out red herrings (conduct of team Anna, OBC/Dalit/Minority participation, RSS/BJP support, impractical nature of JLP, threat to parliamentary supremacy, media hyperactivity) by incumbent class as a whole tells us that this movement has hurt lot of interests where it hurts the most.

Mumbai, India
Aug 31, 2011
12:24 AM

Many here seem to miss the point made here in this article. The question that one must address is should a news organization report news as it is or should it take on the role of an activist. The dilemma as I see it is this, the minute the NEWS channel takes sides and becomes an active participant in an agitation they are no longer an impartial observer and reporter of the news.

By asking people to send tweets and messages in support of the agitation they too are actively participating in the agitation instead of reporting on it. Just because there is a popular demand that a news channel report the news in a biased manner, it does not mean that the news channel should forget its role in the society. A news channel should just report the news and should let voices of both whom support the agitation and those who oppose the agitation. Going overboard by asking leading questions like ' do you support Anna’s agitation against corruption' is as good as suggesting that you should support Anna’s agitation against corruption. How is supposed to answer that question? If you say I support agitation against corruption, but I oppose the manner in which the agitation is being carried out then you are immediately branded to be a congress stooge and supporter of corruption. So even if you say you are against corruption you are still accused of supporting corruption.

When it was revealed that Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri were bring paid by BCCI many here accused them of being corrupt as they felt that since BCCI was paying them one cannot trust them to comment fairly on issues related to BCCI.

In the same way by being an active participant in Anna Hazare's agitation by exhorting the people to gather at a certain place for demonstration, by asking them to tweet in support of the agitation one can no longer trust the news channel to report fairly on issues related to Anna Hazare's anti corruption agitation.

Corruption in India is so deep rooted that Anna Hazare’s agitation does nothing to uproot it.

What really amused me was a news Item in a news paper which reported that some employees of a sub registrar’s office were out demonstrating in support of Anna Hazare's agitation while an enterprising newspaper reporter got a fake birth certificate in name of Anna Hazare from the same office by paying bribes.

Here in Bangalore on M.G. Road there were people taking part in support of Anna Hazare, at the same time an employee of Cauvery(which is an government organization) was selling small handcrafted items without bill. By doing so he pocketed the entire amount and the buyer who bought the item without bill did not pay any taxes.

Also in sub registrars office near Bangalore I was told that the sub registrar had to Pay annual bribe of sixty lakhs just to ensure that she does not get transferred from her lucrative post.

So much for rooting out corruption.

Suresh Kamath
Edison, United States
Aug 31, 2011
03:50 PM

 The population of the Delhi metropolitan area is in excess of 10 million; yet at their height, the crowds in the Ramlila Maidan have never exceeded 50,000. In May 1998, 400,000 residents of Calcutta marched in protest against the Pokhran blasts. No one then said that ‘India stands against Nuclear Bombs’. Now, however, as television cameras endlessly show the same scenes at the same place, we are told that ‘India is for Anna'.

Niamul Hossain Mallick
Burdwan - west bengal, India
Sep 01, 2011
09:54 PM

 I am with Anna Hazare, because he feels for India, something which I needed to re-remember, and which he helped me with. He is the only alternative to tell the government where they can improve, because he is really clean. If I did what he has done, then I would be in serious trouble, why and how, the government would tell me in time.

Aditya Mookerjee
Belgaum, India
Sep 06, 2011
11:06 PM

Mr Dharker,

Your concern is relevant when we as citizens have rights, democractic institutions of protest, rule of law and criminals in jail. Your concerns are practically worthless if these conditions don't exist. Media is an instrument of democracy and I am glad the middle class backrgound of journalist come through in their reportage. It would be sad if like Pakistan , news is filtered with the view of lackeys of the rich and powerful like you.

Btw you wrote in the first sentence, power corrupts and Anna Hazare and Media are powerful..Are you smoking something these days? Please share with me too cos I wanna get high and write too so that I get op ed pieces in Outlook. If not then please retire cos your diatribe sounds like diahorrea of the rich.

Power rests in India with the government. (Period).

A democratic consitution does not assure democracy and replace need of democratic institutions( including a platform to dissent through-recall, no vote etc..the things Mr Hazare is fighting for)

The day we will have power with people , we will really be a democracy...wake up and smell the coffee Mr Dharker.

Somshankar Bose
Madison, United States


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