s the print and television media responsible for propelling Varun Gandhi to national prominence? Most editors contacted by Outlook
said they could not have ignored Varun Gandhi’s speech. It was too important to be let off with a cursory look.
More than print, it is television that has come into sharp focus because the images of Varun delivering his hate speech accompanied by the audio made a potent cocktail. But most news channels that carpetbombed their viewers with Gandhi junior’s speech say the quantum of coverage was justified. Or, as CNN-IBN’s Rajdeep Sardesai put it, "That’s the only way to generate public opinion, especially when someone carries the surname of Gandhi."
It was eight days after a vermillion tika-sporting Varun Gandhi delivered his hate-filled harangue to a straggling crowd in his Pilibhit constituency on March 9 that the tapes of his speech were made available to TV channels. He has remained on air since then, on prime time. Portions of his speech have been telecast with some parts blipped out for the sake of sanity—a decision apparently taken by the channel heads.
Varun’s speech has spawned debates, and in a signature exercise of news channels now, viewers were asked to give their opinion on whether Varun’s political innings should be cut short.
Eyeball catcher: His hate speech has found Varun support from the Bajrang Dal in Hubli
As is evident by now, Varun does not make for compulsive viewing, but his speech was audacious and therefore startling enough to qualify as news. "Imagine Varun Gandhi being shown without the tape playing out," says news head of Times Now, Arnab Goswami. Adds Sardesai, whose channel was first off the mark, and replayed the speech in a loop: "This story had to be told in public interest and we tracked it right down to his arrest. We did not deliberately chase the story but stayed with it." Adds Goswami: "Much time was devoted to the story as our channel sensitised people to see through what was clearly a stage-managed show by Varun."
Most channels agree it was one of the big news stories of Elections 2009. Says Anjan Bandopadhyay of 24-Ghanta, a Bengali news channel, "For a week we gave it adequate coverage and were flooded by two kinds of requests. One asked us to stop showing the speech. The other wanted us to open sms lines for viewers to send in their views."
In the South, Varun continues to be in the headlines in channels like Sun and Kalaignar. Analysts estimate that over 300 hours of programming have been devoted to Varun by all news channels nationwide. And till another news break comes along, the news channels will milk the story again and again.