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News TV, Team Anna And Democracy

I-am-Anna

Pramod Kumar for BeyondHeadlines

The media in general and News TV in particular have been rightly critical of the maladroit handling by the UPA Government of the Team Anna. The government has not only been inept but has been purblind too to the increasing misgivings and frustrations of the general public about the scale and extent of the corruption, both big ticket and at ground level.

However, news TV`s coverage of the Anna Hazare saga`s heady mix of money, hyper-nationalism and religion, a lofty cause, constant invocation of Gandhian piety and, essentially middle class frenzy has been not only uncritical, unbalanced, biased but has distorted the political discourse too. The uneasy feeling that the attitude and language of the Team Anna is becoming more and more authoritarian and strident is reinforced by the kinds of threats that are being held out to the politicians and many unseemly assertions and dubious claims being made almost every day.

While the government has been hauled over the burning coals mercilessly by the media, the treatment given to the Team Anna is inexplicably and strangely the exact opposite. The government has been taken to task for its flip-flops, for appearing somewhat lukewarm about the menace of corruption, arresting Anna Hazare and then releasing him, labeling Hazare as corrupt and then extolling his saintly qualities. But for Team Anna, it has been a coverage which has simply overlooked what is wrong with their campaign and instead they have been built up as saviours who will eradicate the corruption.  No attention has been paid to the imperious dictates issued by them almost daily. The Team Anna`s claim that “we have a democratic right to protest and place our views in public” is a proposition no one can have any problem with and has been upheld vociferously by the media also. But their demand “Anna will remain on fast until his bill (jan lokpal bill) is adopted within the time frame set up by him or amended only with his permission” reveals an anti-democratic and a frightening mindset. But media has no time to pay attention to this aspect.

Ms. Arundhati Roy has pointed out in her article “I`d rather not be Anna” in The Hindu  that for completely different reasons and in completely different ways, one could say that the Maoists and the Team Anna through their bill have one thing in common – they seek the overthrow of the Indian state. In the case of Team Anna, it may be and it does appear to be an exaggeration. But the methods they have devised to achieve their objective do have the latent and sinister potential for destroying our howsoever flawed democracy and destabilizing the state. The Team Anna has an agenda, unclear so far, since it is natural to presume that they do have their plans beyond this bill. Has our media indulged in any speculation in this regard as they regularly do with the politicians? Have they tried to investigate and analyze this aspect of their movement?

About the unseemly assertions and threats being made from the Ramlila ground and being purveyed to  the viewers non-stop, the reference is to the assertions made on the morning of 25/8/11 by Kiran Bedi, one of the triumvirate, that there is no longer any government in control of the country. The Team does not know who to negotiate with regard to their demands. This was a preposterous statement since only a day earlier the Team Anna had held discussions with the Leader of the Loksabha, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee. While the government, after the meeting, claimed that the discussions will continue, the Team Anna put paid to any such prospects by making extremely critical statements and claims. It was even asserted that Mr. Mukherjee was unconcerned about Mr. Hazare`s health and dismissed it with the remark that it was Team Anna`s concern and not his. The veracity of the claims made by the Team Anna was challenged by no less than Mr. Mukherjee himself. It appeared to be the repetition of what used to happen after every meeting of the drafting committee. But it does lead to a suspicion that at least this triumvirate was less than enthusiastic about the discussions.

On 26/8/11 in the early evening,  on the main platform at the Ramlila ground Ms Bedi was exhorting the supporters not to do anything on Saturday, the day fixed for the debate on the Lokpal Bill in Parliament, but watch the proceedings of Lok Sabha on TV and take note of who is against the Team`s bill and who is supporting it. If you are away from home ask your family to take careful notes on who betrayed you or fulfilled your mandate. She kept on repeating it again and again. The implicit threat was quite obvious and our news TV relayed live all this tirade of Ms Bedi against the members of Parliamanet. One cannot be sure if it is a breach of privilege of the members but the implied threat is not democratic. It is a dangerous trend and must be nipped in the bud otherwise every future demagogue will try this tactic to stifle independent thinking. And later in the evening Ms. Bedi again indulged in cheap theatrics and in ridiculing and lampooning the politicians in crudest possible language.

The news TV, particularly the TIMES NOW has been steadily lowering the standards of professional journalism. It has not been an advocate for the Team Anna`s cause but an accomplice now. That incessant running of the video footage of a weak, sickly, supine Mr Hazare is used to stoke the emotions and anger amongst his supporters is utterly distasteful if not ghoulish. The discussions in the studios have remained shallow and one sided thanks to the anchors. The dissent is openly discouraged. CNN-IBN and NDTV have allowed, although hesitantly, some dissenting voices to share the talk time but Times Now and NewsX, it appears, are following what Mr. Rupert Murdoch does with his media empire in USA and UK. The concern being expressed by the scholars like Kancha Ilaiah and Chander Bhan is not being conveyed to the viewers is again a betrayal of professional journalism.

Another disquieting fact of this movement is the apparent lack of tolerance of dissent and the autocratic approach.. Even Mr. Hazare himself has said that “selection is better than election” in a video clip called “I am Anna” shown on NDTV only for a short while last week. It is unforgivable for NDTV to have pulled it off from their screen so quickly and one wonders at whose behest? We should have no hesitation in welcoming the participation of middle class in political process if the urge is genuine and if it remains within the framework of representative democracy. It is in media`s interest also to preserve the sovereignty of our Parliament and the supremacy of our Constitution.

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