Tuesday, May 19, 2009

10 hours of continuous TV watching and my winner is....


After hours of back-breaking research into comparative election coverage(fine, it was just the first two hours!), I conclude that NDTV 24X7 came out a marginal winner in the contest for the least annoying TV channel covering the election roller-coaster. NDTV's graphics were updated at a faster rate, were more clearer and the analysis was actually a bit more sober than that of its nearest rival CNN-IBN. The latter, which was affected by a keen desire to prove itself in its first general election, ended up being a bit too shrill and the analysis sometimes distracted the viewer from the updates that were coming in. Times Now was unfortunately a poor third as it lagged behind in speed and analysis.

Of course, all was not rosy with NDTV as well. One got to see Barkha Dutt's face contorting in every way possible pretty often as the camera was slow in moving away from her face while she was communicating with her team plus there were quite a few technical glitches. But these were only the superficial(and mildly entertaining) issues that the media exhibited. The real ones perhaps lie much deeper.

It is pretty obvious that while many of the exit polls predicted the direction of the results, they often went completely wrong in the specifics(which is why they failed to get the numbers). This could partly be the result of some genuine nervousness after the debacle in 2004(NDTV psephologist Dorab Sopariwala looked like he would have a heart attack till the results began coming out). Another reason could be the fact that national channels have abandoned the concept of reporting from the ground and often depend on correspondents who are stationed at state capitals and have access to political leaders alone. Thus the failure to see trends in UP and West Bengal, which considering their magnitude, should have been quite a bit obvious.

It is easy to understand why news channels are slowly abandoning the kind of reporting necessary to predict swings like these. Varun's Gandhi's antics are any day more entertaining and 'news-worthy' than shifts in the voting patters in eastern UP and it saves so much man-power when you can attribute the decimation of the CPI(M) to 'rural discontent' without exactly defining what it is. It is important that channels and media watchers keep these issues in mind and frequently remind themselves that getting the trends right is no achievement in itself when significant developments are completely missed out during the course of analysis.

Other mundane points.
1) Everyone seems ready to applaud and bid a warm farewell to L.K.Advani. This is utter crap. However much he 'tried' to modify his stance, India cannot forgive the man who led the march to demolish the Babri Masjid.
2) Karan Thapar is an awesome interviewer. He is also a bad anchor. The drama involved in his exclaiming mundane phrases like 'vote percentage' is seriously off-putting.
3) Barkha Dutt and Vikram Chandra are a very bad pair. They frequently kept tripping up each other. Me thinks there is some serious power struggles on at NDTV.
4) Times Now needs some decent support staff for Arnab Goswami. Poor fellow seems sagging from all that pressure.
5) Why was Lord Meghnad Desai a part of the CNN-IBN coverage? Why not Mandira Bedi the next time then?
6) Amidst Rajdeep Sardesai's brazen attempts to promote CNN-IBN, Prannoy Roy is more balanced any day.

The election season is as good as any to give out a spree of Katrina Awards and there are many who have qualified for the said honor, from the Amma of the South to Comrade Karat. But then, I look back and realize that since the award committee itself was living in quite a deluded world(I was quite sure of a hung parliament), it is perhaps time to forgive and forget in the best traditions of this election season. Chilllll!! :)

PS. A modified version of this post was first published at desicritics
PS2. I just found out that I was not the only person to have the bright idea of comparing the performance of news channels. The media watchdog website, The Hoot has a significantly more comprehensive piece on the coverage. But then, the Hoot is a media watchdog website. This is just the dailypheesh ;)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dunces of democracy.

The last lap of the prelude to the 'Dance of Democracy'(the real moves begin on the 16th) ended yesterday and courtesy this last phase, the voting percentages might just about match those of 2004. So that's it then! We live in a happy and fulfilling democracy! Hurrah and three cheers.

Once our hangover subsides, we may also choose to remember that it's been exactly 2 years since Dr. Binayak Sen was imprisoned by the sate of Chattisgarh on the flimsiest of grounds. Over the past two years, the case has crumbled bit by steady bit. And yet, the government or for that matter the judiciary have not only refused to withdraw the case but have even denied a sick man the right to medical treatment of his choice. Nobel laureates and British MPs(a bit rich considering Binyam Mohamed) have appealed for his release. There has been a decent amount of publicity and a lot of protest over the issue(including the now-inescapable facebook group). Despite all this, Dr.Sen is still in jail.

I am not one who would argue that publicity and news outrage should influence the way the government or the judiciary proceeds. However, considering the notoriety the case has earned, doesn't it seem sort of obvious that the government or the judges hearing the case would move in a slightly different manner, like say, with a bit more speed? If the establishment(the only word i can think of now) can allow a sore like this to persist so openly, don't all those words we have been repeating about accountability and the power of the press and other such things ring so hollow? And if this is the case with such a well-known figure, the fate of common-er citizens is well...

I like to believe I am not that naive about the way things happen in India. But I also believe that often, in the midst of the fairly comfortable existence many of us lead, we tend to believe and swallow the lessons we have been taught. We tend to believe it's a free country, a beacon of democracy amidst failed states and that with a lot of effort, anybody can make it good. These beliefs are not articles of faith for us. No one can be that dumb! But sometimes, grudgingly, with a lot of qualifications, we tend to sit back, look at ourselves and think..'You know what? This place isn't that bad after all'.

Perhaps, being 'political' implies taking off the goop that gathers around your eye while you are asleep!

A better way of phrasing it is the way Devina Mehta said it. Devina Mehta, who along with her husband was persecuted only because they were the financiers of Tehelka which had just, then conducted 'Operation West End'. Devina Mehta, who said:

"Now you realize that anybody out there is only there because nobody wants you inside. Any time somebody wants you inside [jail], you can be inside."

A couple of days ago, Iran, as repressive a state as any, released US-Iraninan journalist Roxanna Saberi after she was convicted in a spying case. It could have been due to US pressure or a 100 other reasons. The fact is if Iran can do it, is it really that hard for the Supreme Court of India?? Or do we need a letter from Barack Obama for this as well?

Ps Do read the story of Shankar and Devina Mehta from the excerpts of Madhu Trehan's book 'PRISM ME A LIE TELL ME A TRUTH: TEHELKA AS METAPHOR'. It's one of the most tragic instances of the point I have been trying to make.

Ps 2. Also check out binayaksen.net, a website which is faithfully chronicling the case of Dr. Sen besides emerging as a rallying point for protests and public initiatives in his support.

Ps 3. The previous post I wrote on this issue(in the interests of context)

Friday, May 8, 2009

One week more.

It's only a week to the declaration of results and to be honest, I feel underwhelmed. On one hand, there is the relentless and suffocating, yet immensely absorbing coverage and on the other, there are the tons of sanctimoniousness thrown around by every 'concerned' celebrity. So it's no wonder that an avid spectator of the political scene like me is into hair-tearing mode by now.

My first brush with election coverage came in 1996 when I began watching the declaration of results because I was terrified after watching the movie Kalapani. Those were the days when Doordarshan ruled the roost and viewers had to do with the sober and controlled narration of news(imagine Arnab Goswami in Doordarshan). While I would never even dream of, or want a return to those times, I sure would love a reduction in the volume of coverage. Random shows with politicians spouting random answers to random questions is not my definition of quality news although most of what we get to see today is just that.
Arnab Goswami talks to Sachin Pilot and Rajiv Pratap Rudy on 'which party has gen next'!
Sachin Pilot talks about why the turnout in the fourth phase of the election is not so bad.
Rajiv Rudy goes on an extended rant about the Congress.

Instances like these will not, of course, stop me from gazing into the screen with the ardor of a mystic or from bitching, ranting and (hopefully) blogging about news programs but someday, some rare, far, remote day..don't we deserve better stuff?
But then, don't we deserve better politicians as well? :P

Friday, May 1, 2009

On May day again....

In solidarity with...

...the innumerable men and women who have lost their jobs or are in danger of losing them. In the belief that better times will come.

That said, it really is time there emerged some kind of forum for expressing the concerns of the employees in the software industry. Most managements and many employees consider union to be an unmentionable, vile word which reminds them of strikes and dharnas and sit-ins and so the idea of an organized union is perhaps a mere pipe dream. However, with employees being fired with hardly any notice and in the absence of any forum to help these ex-employees, it is becoming quite obvious that the union-free model of these corporates needs to be modified.

Of course, the question is-- obvious to whom???
(sort of)Happy May Day.

PS.Some info on the origins of May Day. Of course, one of the more interesting pieces I have read in this regard is Eric Hobsbawm's essay(which is referred to in the link) on the early May Day celebrations which appears in his book 'Uncommon People:Resistance, Rebellion and Jazz'. Check it out!
Image credits