Small channels, big gains
Mannika Chopra

Viewers barely recovering from the massacre in Dantewada this week were recalibrating themselves to a new tragedy. One by one, the gruesome images trickled in on to our TV screens, searing our minds. When the news of the crash of the Air India Express flight at Mangalore Airport spread, every channel zoomed in on this immense spectacle of horror. As many as 158 died and, miraculously, eight survived.

The scenes were chaotic. Rescue workers carrying bodies were indistinguishable from the other people, who seemed to mushroom at such accident sites. Major networks, unable to reach the accident site, depended on the initial footage provided by Suvarana 24X7, a cable channel located in Karnataka. Later, at the hospitals and at the mortuary, camera teams found curb space for their OB vans. They zoomed in on the grieving families of the dead — some of them doubly cursed — eyewitnesses and survivors. Thankfully, in the channels I saw, no reporter asked the survivors that exasperating how-do-you-feel question.

Ten days ago, the latest carnage in thickly forested Dantewada had also meant that mainline channels had to depend on the footage provided by well-entrenched regional channels. Then local network Sadhana News provided exclusive footage to almost all channels — apparently free of cost.

Executive Director of the network Prabhat Dabral says giving`A0pro bono feeds to national channels is perfectly acceptable as long as the network is given due credit. Clearly, as more and more attacks occur in India’s heartland, leading to all kinds of deaths, death by ambush, death by intent and death by accident, channels like Sadhna News and Suvarna 24X7 — with their web of stringers and staffers — will become as familiar to viewers as Aaj Tak or Times Now.

Both the incidents brought out the usual high-octane approach in Times Now’s Arnab Goswami. In his News Hour debate, a show also known in some circles as This Country Wants To Know, Goswami, roasted, grilled and chewed up the former Executive Director of Air India Jitender Bhargava, primarily on the issue of how a former chairperson of Air India was running a business of providing expat pilots to fly the national carrier’s planes.

Providing a much-needed focus to the debate was Leo Saldhana, who, a few years ago, was responsible for a technical report, pointing out how the then newly constructed Mangalore Airport was a deathtrap waiting to happen.

With one year of the UPA-2 upon us, most channels were busy preparing report cards, grading the ungradeable. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was busy giving his first press conference after a gap of four years.`A0India has got used to long silences from this PM, perhaps a price that has to be paid for coalition politics. So when the Prime Minister meets the press after four years, it is an occasion to tune in on the presser, which was being broadcast live across all news channels.

But this extended interaction was far from being Singh’s moment of truth. It was friendly but without any fire.`A0No fact was controversial, no bite was sparkling, and no answer could be challenged. The self-effacing Prime Minister, designed not to attract any attention, did not make an impression. For the newspersons sitting with bated breath, it was hard to walk away feeling enriched.

NDTV posed questions to over 30,000 people. Apparently, a majority indicated that they were not better off under UPA-2. Well, duh, what with inflation and Naxal attacks, we don’t need an expensive poll to know that. CNN-IBN poll in collaboration with Hindustan Times highlighted different conclusions: 61 per cent of its respondents felt the Prime Minister was effective, speedy and purposeful. 

How helpful are these nationwide surveys for tele-audiences? Frankly, there is something very distant about these surveys.

Personally, I would rather have a checklist of the promises made by each minister and scrutinise and evaluate performance levels.