Bedlam ensued and millions watched the leaders of their country fight it out on the national front like wild animals on the loose. Chaos reigned, and after a lot of stone pelting and alleged horse trading the UPA emerged victorious: the July 22nd parliamentary debate was no less than a spectacle.
The whole political situation which was triggered by the nuclear deal was a boon for the media. All segments of the media covered the event with gusto. No newspaper, news channel, news site, was willing to sacrifice the riches they could add to their bank balance by covering the Great Indian Soap Opera being played out live and exclusive in the Parliament. While the populace of the country sat bedazzled and watched the leaders of their country tear each other to pieces, the media, the sole bridge between the civilians and the happenings in the country turned the whole thing upside down, inside out, dissected it, surmised about the various possibilities of the deal, the trust vote, the repercussions.
In fact the entire week preceding judgment day had seen news channels having special debates, discussions, opinion polls, everyone arrogated about the pros and cons of the deal, the knowledgeable were more than willing to share their knowledge on whatever they knew about the deal, the ignorant tried hard to benefit from the pearls of wisdom that the media offered them. So while our politicians planned day and night on how to tilt the balance in their favor, the media gloated on the high TRP’S that it witnessed after the much intriguing Arushi murder case had fizzled out.
Lok Sabha TV, a channel with limited viewership and low TRP’S saw its TRP skyrocket by about 50% on 22nd July. According to a business standard survey any news channel that used more than 5 minutes of its footage had to shell out a sum of Rs.100,000. NDTV 24×7, CNN-IBN, Times Now, Headlines Today, the Hindi news channels: Aaj Tak, Star News, NDTV India, IBN 7, DD News, India TV, the regional language news channels: Udaya, Sun, Suvarna, TV9, Teja, IBN Lokmat and many more news channels covered the nuclear deal from head to toe. These channels escalated their advertisement rates by 200-300%. In a nutshell the whole ‘deal and trust vote’ was a money minting game for the media. Time was dedicated to every bit of information no matter how trivial.
Many news channels conducted their own customized surveys to elucidate every triviality they could. AC Nielsen conducted a survey for Star News across 19 cities to asses the mood of the people before the trust vote. The survey was titled “Desh ka Vishwas Mat”. While the news channels wanted to capitalize on the public sentiment the question was what percentage of the public actually knew about the deal and its repercussions that had led to the particular survey. While most of the middleclass and urban population had half baked knowledge about the subject in question, majority of the population was oblivious to the deal. CNN IBN got its journalists to tread down dusty village roads to find out how much the wise men of the village actually knew about the deal. It was no surprise that people living in the rural areas were completely indifferent to the core issue of the deal, though they had a lot to say about the rising prices and backbreaking inflation. But the concerns of the common man had taken a back bench for the politburo members as well as the news channels.
TRP has become the buzzword for these channels, the real essence of journalism is lost in glorifying petty things and covering an issue from various angles, some highly ludicrous.
The viewership of Hindi news channels was up by 10% on Monday compared to last week’s. The top 13 Hindi news channels witnessed an average rating of 0.63 on 21st July compared to the average rating of 0.57 on 15 July, all thanks to the special segments, debates, discussions that these channels held for their audience on the deal which has baffled many people in the country.
But the media certainly did not limit itself to the necessary and intellectual aspects of the deal. Instead it went overboard with some of its news items which were only remotely related to the deal. Take for instance the hullabaloo created over Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and the formal attire she donned on the D-day. Newspapers went berserk and actually covered the evolution of her wardrobe ,they consulted fashion designers for their opinion on the outfit, also did some research and glorified the various looks donned by Priyanka Gandhi in the past. So the nuclear deal which was actually the bone of contention at some point in the past became a mere red herring and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and her choice of clothes got special coverage.
July 22 saw all news channels flashing their favorite caption “BREAKING NEWS” and the trust vote, the MP’S charging to the centre of the parliament with wads of currency in their hands and claiming how the victorious side had tried to buy them out, ministers taking potshots at each other were well documented by news channels. The Left siding up with Mayawati, BJP betrayed by its own men, rebel MPs ,tainted ministers being coveted for the vote, all these events and many more became the source of prime time entertainment for the population of the subcontinent, courtesy the news channels and newspapers which had made the nuclear deal, the deal behind the deal, the money behind the deal, the political opportunism behind the deal, and every other thing even vaguely associated with the deal into a commercial enterprise.
The news channels converted the whole event into a great soap opera which had all the drama of the typical saas bahu serials, it had betrayal and heartbreak like a mills and boons novel, the anxiety element that the reality TV shows capitalize on, new alliances evolving and a failed marriage between the Left and UPA and adulterous partners elements which shows like Desperate Housewives and The Bold and The Beautiful usually revolve around. The media happily maneuvered all their segments around the pandemonium. It seemed while our nation witnessed a murky, ideology based power battle the media was more than happy exploiting it to its own advantage to boost its TRPs.