Saturday, November 20, 2004

Sight & Sound
It was Arafat all the way
Amita Malik

Amita MalikOne of the great events in contemporary history was the mysterious illness of Yasser Arafat, and then the riveting funeral at Ramallah, preceded by a more restricted and formal one in Cairo. The private grief of his wife and daughter, embraced in Paris by the French President and PM, came to a climax with the fantastic farewell by his own followers, including gun-wielding young men. People the world over were left in no doubt about his people’s love for Arafat.

Yasser ArafatThe BBC, as is usual on such occasions, did the best international coverage. Lyse Doucet, on the spot, was much more eloquent and sympathetic than her male counterparts. Women commentators are taking over top reporting slots from men. Our own Barkha Dutt also rushed to the spot and did some splendid interviewing. One must also compliment Rajat Sharma’s India Channel for showing us the coverage on Al Jazeera. Indian viewers have been so swamped by (often biased) Western reportage on West Asian affairs that to get an Arab viewpoint made all the difference. Uma Bharati’s reality show on TV had its thunder stolen, mercifully, by Arafat.

We had barely recovered when along came the dramatic and controversial arrest of the Kanchi seer. One is glad to note that once the competitive reporting and news flashes were over, most channels kept the issues of religion and the law strictly separate, as they should be, and did not take sides.

Then, of course, the dramatic cliff-hanging climax of the Indo-Pak cricket from Eden Gardens. Doordarshan made its sports channel an advertisement channel, with a little bit of cricket thrown in. Let alone not allowing comments between overs, DD’s ads cut into such vital moments as the opening batsmen coming out to the pitch. Also, the end of a sentence giving the score at the end of each over was cut and distinguished guest commentator such as Imran Khan was cut off in mid-sentence to put in an ad of Frenchie panties. Yuvraj Singh got a standing ovation but it was not shown. When a man got out, action replay and comments from the experts were not allowed. Mercifully, we had almost the full coverage of the nostalgic presentation of awards to the former greats of cricket. One hopes after the middle of December, cricket coverage will go back to the more professional independent channels which shows us more sports and less ads.

Now to some good programmes. I am glad Derek O’Brien’s national quiz for youngsters was located in and took in competitors from the North-East, the most neglected area on TV channels.

That TV channels are becoming more global was evident in NDTVs comparatively new programme, Foreign Correspondent, deftly anchored by Ajai Shukla. It had The New York Times, The Financial Times, the Arabic Channel and Saeed Naqvi, whom Shukla rather carelessly described as a "senior" (a term more applicable to ageing sarkari naukars than media professionals) rather than India’s leading foreign correspondent who has traversed the globe in DD’s badly scheduled World Report. They predictably discussed Arafat and after, but also local issues. The use of visuals, as compared with its BBC counterpart which has none, adds to the quality of the programme.

I would like, in passing, to pat Nidhi Razdan on the back for having emerged as one of the best news anchors on TV. She manages her interview with minimum use of time and interruptions and yet gets relevant and short answers from her guests. She could serve as a model to Sagarika Ghose.

Tail-piece: Most of us now have at least 100 channels on our TV sets. This has led to a proliferation of hasty channels joining the rat race. But surely they can think of original titles. Star and Sahara have new channels simply called Star One and Sahara One, both are targeting young audiences. While serials are shamelessly copying foreign ones with little attempt at disguise, they can, at least, think of original titles and not get stuck from the start.