More than 30 camera crews lugged their wares behind Arvind Kejriwal as he tried to barge into Narendra Modi’s office.
Not one editor was naïve to think that the Gujarat Chief Minister would indulge a political wannabe, much less suffer a joint review of Gujarat’s development.
Yet, the theatre of the absurd played out as if by Kejriwal’s script.
Nearly every channel chasing him ran his speeches Live. There were several repeats during the day and discussion shows in the prime time followed.
It was left to Kejriwal’s baiters in social media to report the meagre turnout at his follow-through meetings.
Why didn’t leading channels in Hindi and English do that? Perhaps they have data to gauge the extent of his support across their own markets!
Jokes apart, the prism remains 9,000 TAM meters or, at best, dipsticks that are either poorly funded or have biases that a recent sting operation claimed to uncover.
Push back from social media remains our hope of getting our TV channels to pull up.
For example, a channel with highest ratings in Hindi is facing a video of their lead anchor exchanging editorial packaging with the former Delhi CM. The leaked video has gone viral.
Clearly, deeper hygiene is called for.
Truth be told, low-cost television is low-brow.
The Gujarat episode is an example – Kejriwal has gotten away with a bunch of cynical half-truths. A stray example: a certain minister in the NaMo Cabinet was accused of dispensing favours. It didn’t strike the anchor or even her news editors to map the said minister’s jurisdiction in the Constitutional scheme and the alleged beneficiary’s line of business in the state. Why?
Surely, Kejriwal has a job to do – but whatever happened to professional editors, whose instinct must be to induce sanitisation and context?
There’s good news though: Social media is moving the cheese. Unencumbered by the need to give visuals priority over editorial sanity, enough hashtags develop on Twitter, giving us a more balanced and nuanced view. Try tweets on the angry young man’s maiden flight on a Religare chartered!
But given its continued relevance, it is worrying that low-brow remains the new north of the mainstream TV channel.
Team Kejriwal, better than the BJP and the Congress, is making the best of the situation: marrying the anger among the youth and near abdication by television editors.
A similar ambush of South Block (or 7, Race Course Road) demanding a review of the Central Government with Manmohan Singh – and editors amplifying the noise?
It’s good visuals, you see!
A missing piece in this game is the preponderance of the pretty.
Many channels are still stuck with what their news anchors bring on the show by way of looks. Hello! In the emerging world of smart screens and measurement of audience preferences on each of those screens, hasn’t IQ displaced oomph already?
That said, the sheer negativity in the Kejriwal discourse isn’t just about partisan politics. It is scaring many believers of the India Story.
Is it for Narendra Modi alone to stand up against the macro environment turning negative?
Congress spokespersons need to do that too.
But after a false start on the Arnab Goswami’s show, Rahul Gandhi has all but clammed up on two-way conversations.
We must see more of you Rahul than through billboards and public meetings; Kejriwal is mixing the dough a whole lot better.
Disclaimer: Just before his blockage at Rail Bhawan, I had met Kejriwal as part of a group of well-meaning corporate citizens – we offered to co-script his forward-looking economic agenda. We aimed to synthesise several half-baked ideas languishing in AAP’s computers (confessed in as many words by Kejriwal, ideologue Yogendra Yadav and others in their core team).
One of India’s most-respected management consultants, now back to being an academic, did the synthesising. But the draft economic agenda has never seen the light of day.
Primetime anchors echoing AK’s ‘nukkad nataks’ must demand this counter narrative.
But since they aren’t, my guess is that they’re happier in a safe zone of delivering ratings from 9,000 meters and cute visuals that Kejriwal stirs up day after day.
That be the case, here’s a question I posed to Aroon Purie of India Today, my co-panelist at the World Editors Forum some years back: Is TV journalism any nobler a profession that flipping hamburgers?
We all know the answer. So, let a hundred more cameras follow Kejriwal in his next ambush, and the next one!
The columnist is a former editor and advises at the intersect of media, regulation and strategy. Follow him @therohitbansal.