Even though most of it was just a tent illegally erected on a ground in a medical institute in Delhi, it seemed the reservations issue hadset the nation on fire. And just as quickly as it had erupted, it
seems to be dying down after that self-uncritical schoolmaster called the Supreme Court of India whacked everyone with a stick in theirbehinds: the striking doctors, the rationale debate on the issue
largely in the print media, the "conflict-hungry" coverage on TV and the dilly-dallying UPA with its moronic minister for 'Human ResourceDevelopment', a amuses me only a little less than the pomposity of the
Over the last two weeks, I met a lot of people all over Delhi. Leftist doctors and rightist doctors, militant corporate types threatening tosack all SC/ST/OBCs they had hired;, journalists and editors withvarying degrees of innocence about the one-sidedness of the coverage;
all kinds of residents of MPs' houses in central Delhi, trying to do' something' about the hungama; the self-caricatured Comrades of JNUwho are ready to abandon class struggle lest they be left out in the
reservations din; Ambedkarite activists and academics.
Amongst all the people I met, there was this disdain for the media that I shared wholeheartedly. Indeed, I do think the TV coverage ofthe debate over the last two months has been the Indian media's hour
of shame. When a studio anchor tells a bunch of college kids to make their 'Rang de Basanti' with Arjun Singh as the villain, you can restassured that TV is not even pretending objectivity.
With the sole of exception of Kancha Ilaiah, everyone else seemed to say, 'Media to unkay saath hai hee hain. (The media is with themanyway.)' The 'them' being anti-reservation activists.
The media bias has been related to three causes, and perhaps all three are true in varying degrees: 1) "Manuwaadi media" - Caste inequalitywithin the media, as excellently articulated by Siddharth Varadarajan,
and statistically proved by a CSDS survey for those who love statistics. 2) The middle class bias that made young reportersinternalise the anger of the students on the street. 3) It is an open
secret by now that the TV channels raised the ad spots rates; the TRPs will soon bear this out. Thus the sensationalism.
Be that as it may, I have noticed, in each one that I met, an unwillingness, sometimes a conscious one, to engage with the media.
The pro-reservationists - and there are many - lacked a coherent strategy to attract the attention of the TV crew. On the contrary,'Youth for Equality' was purely a media spectacle.
The one word about the television that the pro-reservation agitators - be it politicians or JNU post-Marxists or the leftist doctors or theDalit politicians - need to hammer into their heads, is 'VISUAL'.
Take this from a TV editor:
"But imagine the even greater power of that image, (which might have endured for generations to come) if a burning screaming Goswami hadbeen captured on prime time news and played again and again, rather
than just remained frozen on a dull newspaper front page". [Link: http://www.ibnlive.com/blogs/rajdeepsardesai/1/11708/prime-time-reservation.html
And then take this from the same editor:
The competition has also led to what some believe is the growing 'tabloidisation' of the medium. I have often chosen to take refuge inwhat Sir Robin Day, the venerable BBC broadcaster once said,
'Television is a tabloid medium, at its best when there is war, violence and disaster.' The most powerful images are often those thathave a touch of drama: a stone thrown at a bus will always be a more
dramatic visual image than an empty street during a bandh. [Link:
When you begin to understand not just the importance but also the means and processes of transformation from being a media consumer tobecoming a media subject, TV will begin to hear your voice. So don't
wait for the self-important TV journalist to find your phone number and call you up. You call them up and say: this is what I think, can Ibe on your show? This is the sort of story I think you should do, why
not? And if you are staging a dharna, remember that dharna happen every day in Jantar mantar and India Gate and other well-knownConstitutionally ordained dharna sites of Delhi. How you you providing
TV with a different visual. Yes, dare I say, taking a mob into a "VIP area" where demonstrations are not allowed, and thus incurring thewrath of the water canons and militantly braving some tear gas might
Half a dozen IIT students entered Jawahrlal Nehru University with candles in their hands. They were allegedly drunk. It took no time forsome JNU student to say: what are you doing here? And thereafter ittook no time for a little punching and kicking to take place. The nose
of a girl started bleeding. The amazing thing was that the whole thing was organised so well that half a dozen students entering JNU withcandles in the wind had merited the arrival in JNU of several Outdoor
Broadcast vans. Obviously, the news editors had been informed about the pre-planned gimmick. For the pro-reservationists, their idea ofmedia coverage is to call up friends in The Hindu. Youth for Equality,
on the other hand, had amongst other committees, a two-member 'SMS co-ordination committee'. The mobile numbers of hundreds of accreditedjournalists in Delhi are publicly available, and that includes the top
bosses of all news channels. Can you put two and two together?
I've been telling the pro-reservation doctors to wear their lab coats and stethoscopes. They laugh at me. But that's exactly what the Youthfor Equality protesters had been doing in their stint at martyrdom via
tear gas. The lab coat and stethoscope is the visual equivalent of the word "merit". Are you going to reply it with your Fab India kurta?
If you have too much contempt for the tabloidised, sensational, dumbed-down media - as you should! - to begin wearing the lab coat andproviding the cameras the visuals they lust for - fine, but you lose
the right to complain about one-sided coverage.
Once the progressives grow up to the TV age and begin representing themselves there, they will find the media will be forced tointrospect, like, for instance, this bit from the same TV editor
quoted twice above:
"mutually competitive 24 hour news networks are almost directparticipants in public processes: not only do they amplify the news,they also influence it."
"For every practitioner of television, the moment of truth dawns when you ask yourself the question, where does the cut throat competitionof TRPs end and social responsibility begin?" [Link:
The battle of hearts and minds, the battle of opinion-building and public debate - it's not on the streets or the op-ed pages anymore. The TV age is upon us. Take it or leave it.