February 29, 2020
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Butter Babies

Butter Babies
LIKE most print media hacks, I have for long nurtured a healthy contempt for television journalism. So I must confess a certain degree of trepidation in associating with Vinod Dua and Mark Tully for Chunav Chunauti 98. After finishing 72 shows of nonstop election coverage in just over a month, I am in two minds. There is, for instance, a refreshing lack of hierarchy and pomposity in the world of television compared to the tribe of self-important scribes. Anchorpersons, cameramen and even the lowliest of lighting assistants merrily jostle with each other in the confines of a cramped studio. The face on the small screen may be that of a famous anchorperson. But behind the scenes, it is the technician who usually has the last word. They also use the most delightful slang. One of the best lines I picked up was "Babies ko butter dal ke, key lagao!" Which of course means to put butter paper on the tiny baby lights and then use the key light.

On the other hand, the fuss and frenzy in the studio turns journalism into a contrived charade. As a guest on another channel, I have seen an anchorperson in acute distress, wired in both ears and straining to read his lines on the auto cue screen. The sheer hysteria involved leaves little scope for considered news analysis. Mercifully, on our show, Dua's open disregard for technical crutches and a special gift of using his own improvised lines instead of the auto cue eased tensions considerably.

There is another big difference between print and electronic journalism. While the former exists on yearly ABC circulation figures (often disputed), television programmes are relentlessly monitored every week. The TRP, or Television Rating Points, is a weekly Bible for all channels indicating viewership and determining advertisement revenue. In our case, just as the most brazenly biased newspaper television reviews were beginning to get us down, the TRP arrived with astoundingly good news. Dua, as usual, had a line to deliver. "Television is a mass medium, not a class privilege," he declared with a self-satisfied smirk.

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