February 24, 2020
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Tussles On The Tube

Political parties fight their electoral battles on the small screen

Tussles On The Tube
Don't tell Dr J.K. Jain that the Election Commission (EC) directives prevent airing of political campaigns and sitcoms during the polling process. The portly Jain, whose channel downed shutters due to financial reasons in '96, is back in its new avatar. And it's been cocking a snook at the EC by regularly airing campaigns with heavy political bias.

Jain is no exception. In the eastern sector, atn Bangla, which beams from the same Thaicom3 satellite as Jain TV, is airing Dusshomoy (Bad Times), a weekly programme on the everyday tensions common people face in Bengal, and Mamata Banerjee Bolche (Mamata Banerjee speaking), both campaigns by Trinamul Congress. Not to be left behind, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has acquired a weekly, 30-minute slot on the cccn cable channel for Ei Shomoy (These Times), a political sitcom.

In the south, enough potshots are taken at politicians on the six Tamil channels, but only two—Sun TV, owned by the family of senior dmk leader Murasoli Maran, whose son Kalanidhi is its ceo; and Jaya TV, functioning out of Jayalalitha's Poes Garden residence—engage in outright propaganda. While Sun does so subtly, no such rules apply to Jaya TV, the channel for Jaya, by Jaya and of Jaya. All four daily bulletins are structured unabashedly to include news-items about the lady. Sun, on the other hand, mildly canvasses for the bjp-dmk front in the poll analysis section it's introduced within its main news capsule at 8 pm. Its anchor Maalan, editor of Kungumam magazine, refutes the charge vehemently: "After DD's failure, no right-thinking channel will ever think of propaganda."

Yet propaganda continues with impunity. Ask Jain if he isn't afraid of the EC's objections and pat comes his reply: "Who's the EC to stop me from airing such campaigns? I defied Seshan during the '94 polls and will do the same now." In the backdrop, his free-to-air channel telecasts campaigns revolving around the government's success in pushing back intruders in Kargil in what appears to be undiluted propaganda. Not just this, the channel subtly overplays the nda candidates on their campaign trail.

Qualms? Jain has none. "Why don't you understand there's a financial side to this whole issue? Not only the bjp, the Congress is also welcome to air its campaigns. After all, the party had earlier been using our facilities (like the Video on Wheels)." Jain says he hasn't received any feelers from the EC yet and even if he does, he'll continue to air these campaigns. "After all, the nation is not at war. Nor is there an emergency that the media should follow government diktat," he says.

Last week in Delhi, chief election commissioner M.S. Gill assured a Congress delegation that he was aware of such activities and would take appropriate action soon. But that didn't bother many.

"What's wrong with it?" quips Trinamul Congress leader Ajit Panja. "People should know why they shouldn't vote for the Left." Agrees Mamata Banerjee: "They make fun of our Bengal package. What have they done for the state in 23 years?" And as she speaks, the Trinamul flower symbol is flashed in the backdrop.

The Left's response to the Trinamul blitzkrieg is simple. Computer-bashers till yesterday, the cpi(m) leaders have flooded the Ganashakti website with a host of political issues that range from agrarian reforms and the two decades of Left rule to the debate over renaming the eastern Indian metropolis. On TV, there's Ei Shomoy, whose director ironically is police minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya.Ageing leaders look straight into the camera, and mumble out their messages for the Bengali masses. The Left Front is touted as the best bet for West Bengal and the successes of its 22-year rule beamed through scenes of the lush green countryside and its toiling people (even if it's with generation-old methods). Unexpected snags do spoil the picture sometimes. As when Jyoti Basu urges people to vote for the Congress against the bjp in public meetings, and the idiot box flashes shots of households in Burdwan district being attacked by Congress hooligans more than two decades ago. It's also readily given up its generation-old tirade against bigtime domestic companies and mncs. The changing face of the Left Front, after all, seeks investment for the country's largest unemployed workforce.

Election department officials in Calcutta say they haven't received any formal complaint. And by the time they do, electoral battlelines will become only sharper.

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