Budget talk all over
Mannika Chopra

The week before the announcement of the Budget is always a predictable one, at least for all TV viewers. News channels will go in overdrive, giving us soft features about the aam admi and the cost of living, and business channels will spew out numbers. Across the board, experts will do what they do best, by giving us expert opinions. But despite the overload of coverage, the figures still make no sense. A crore here, a crore there. What does it all mean to you, me and, yes, the mango man (aam aadmi). But sense or not, the reportage has to be there, and who came ahead in the Budget blather can only be assessed next week.

In the meantime, there are studio discussions galore. Some in the most unexpected of places. Like NDTV’s Budget Adda in a Barista outlet located in Delhi’s spiffy city select mall. Sitting around two tables, NDTV’s Prannoy Roy, economists Surjit Bhalla and Ila Patnaik and Editor Shekhar Gupta talked about recession, price rise and India’s growth prospects. The setting was certainly an odd choice. The background sounds were too loud and distracting; the seating arrangement awkward; and the content not markedly different.

In the backdrop of this heavy duty discussion, mall rats in their low-rise jeans and high-rise hairdo’s happily went about their business. Why Barista? The mind does not boggle. It is probably another way for product placement and garnering scarce advertising revenue, which is hitting news networks. Or maybe it was the concept of the adda and a coffee hub. Whatever the reason, a more appropriate setting would have been in order.

Much more audible and relevant was the interaction with Jayanti Ghosh in One on One on Lok Sabha TV (LSTV) with Pranjoy Thakurta. Also commendable was State of the Economy series that DD News is running these pre-Budget days. Drab and dull it might be, without any graphic or vocal crutches, but if it is information sans the fluff you are yearning for, then turn to the national network. The episode I saw talked about the real estate sector and had valuable lessons for those entering this area.

A point of focus in any Budget week is the address by the President to the joint session of Parliament. Broadcast live by LSTV, this year the nearly one-hour speech by President Pratibha Patil contoured government policies and thinking. And in that sense it is one of the more important speeches that the President makes every year. Unlike the President’s speech on the eve of Republic Day and Independence Day, the Budget speech is the result of various inputs from ministries and the Cabinet. This is high-powered stuff then, probably written by high-powered babus.

But you have to wonder that, given its importance, and in the age of TV, why are such speeches not crafted more cunningly, and with a better sense of flair? Although in terms of content the speech was significant — touching on among other things food security, relations with Pakistan and the Women’s Reservation Bill — the script as it endorsed government policies was listless.

NewX devoted a news feature on the speech which it felt was slightly controversial. But by and large, it was left well alone. In fact, time was when former Presidents’ speeches or portions of these were regularly relayed by cable channels. Senior journalist Inder Malhotra, who as a rookie, has covered the speeches of former Presidents Rajendra Prasad and S. Radhakrishnan, recalls how these were treasured sources of information and inspiration. Now speeches tend to be clich`E9d, written in sarkari English, especially odd because as TV testimonials they need to have that much more punch and pizzazz.

As awkward and embarrassed press conferences go, ace golfer Tiger Wood’s mea culpa was definitely a winner. Looped continuously by CNN and then the sports segments of most channels, the five minute-or-so affair was verging on the hysterical. In his address to the nation, Woods pathetically said he was sorry in 101 different ways or thereabouts. Looking kinda sad, he called himself selfish, irresponsible, foolish, shameful, pained and many other adjectives, which I didn’t note down. Yes, he also used the word "unfaithful" but it was tucked in between the other multiple variations on the theme.

He first hugged his mother, and then a relay of other people, which looked as if he had won another golf title and was being congratulated. This kind of defeated the purpose of the televised confession, I thought. As a person being interviewed said: " Why was he apologising to the public? It was his wife with whom he had to fix things with." Yep, the man had a point.