Saturday, November 1, 2003

Amita Malik SIGHT & SOUND

Itís election time again
Amita Malik

WITH elections round the corner all channels are gearing up for hectic coverage, some sooner and some later. One of the first off the starting line was Star News with Kaun Banega Mukhya Mantri with Vinod Dua minus his designer bandh gala this time. He was hopping into three wheelers in bush shirts to go to every place within reach to get reactions from everyone, from his expert colleague in the studio to ordinary men and women on the street and in villages. He interviewed them about the achievements and otherwise of existing governments. Sahara Samay, has Sanjay Mishra of Public Hai Sab Janti Hai fame representing, well, the public with a huge globe held in his hands questioning everyone from Uma Bharti onwards with a wicked look on his face and accompanied by some rather silly beeps which add nothing to the programme. Aaj Tak also puts on a funny face with a programme called Aaj Ka MLA. NDTV, at the time of writing, is promising its usually very professional and specialised election specials, such as On The Campaign Trail. I particularly look forward to its best reporters spending 24 hours with candidates as they rush through their constituencies. And we can expect high-level panel discussions with utterly predictable panellists, some with distinct political leanings, as the results start coming in. But public hai sab janti hai, and they are quite easily spotted. All in all, election time is always great fun, all the more so when some confident advance polls and "expert" predictions which are really in the way of wishful thinking, fall flat on their faces. Very few channels have the grace to admit later that they were wrong. But then, that is part of the game as also tall claims of being first in everything. Usually DD bends over backwards to please the government in power at the Centre even when it comes to covering state elections. And its sudden conversion of the Metro entertainment channel into a belated news channel on the eve of the elections is raising quite a few cynical eyebrows and the Election Commission might yet look into the timing.

At the time of writing, the Afro-Asian Games were in full swing in Hyderabad and while DDís camera crews and sound engineers were doing their usual competent job, the sycophantic producers knew, as they did on all occasions attended by ministers, on whom to focus the cameras. As usual, the Minister for Information and Broadcasting got more close-ups than most, although he was no part of the games. But then, that is DD for you. Much more serious was DDís utter lack of news and sports sense about timing. For instance, in the very last moments of the womenís tennis final between Sania Mirza of India and the Indonesian No 1, the match was cut off to give us a routine sports round-up which was more concerned with the fortunes of far-off Arsenal and tennis events in Europe than letting us watch the exciting end of the match. The routine sports round-up (nothing to do with the Afro-Asian Games) went on to its dull and leisurely end so we also missed the opening minutes of the India-Pakistan hockey match. It left viewers biting their nails in frustration, as usual. The cricket tri-series was also ruined by individual and team scores not being flashed often enough on the screen. I happened to go out of the room for a minute and came back to find Tendulkar was out. In the match against Australia, neither the captions on the screen nor the commentators bothered to tell us later how Tendulkar had got out. Also downright insulting to cricket enthusiasts and viewers in general is DD joining the rat race and giving us a poor manís Mandira Bedi in the form of a would-be glamour girl who has joined Charu Goswami, the poor manís Harsha Bhogale, to ask inane questions and make silly comments on the match. This is a practice that should be stopped once and for all, as it has already got out of hand. DDís sports section, if it has one, would do better to spruce up its sports coverage by using one of its other channels, perhaps its about to be scrapped Metro channel,to give us continuing coverage of important sports events instead of cutting them off abruptly at crucial moments. It could also instruct its commentators to keep on mentioning individual scores and overall positions for those who tune in late, or have to interrupt their viewing for some reason.

It is always a pleasure for a columnist to find fresh talent coming up and get away from recurring veterans. Nidhi Kulpati, reporting for NDTV in both English and Hindi from Teheran, did a very competent job of news stories as well as interviewing. The same can be said of Pallavi Iyer reporting from Beijing. I wish Star News, which sent its reporter to Moscow to interview President Putin, had asked more immediately relevant and imaginative questions, instead of routine ones.