The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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They said what they’d said before, they heckled the way they always do, they voted the way they were expected to. Yet, they made news.

But our MPs won’t be surprised. This is par for the course for the Indian press. The just concluded no-confidence debate was just the sort of show the media seem to want from politicians: a gladiatorial combat, all sound and fury signifying little but easy to report. (It would have been even better if it had not delayed papers by going into extra time.)

So the members came to Parliament dressed better than usual, showed more decorum in the House than normal and honed their histrionic skills even more assiduously.

The conventional wisdom that pervades newsrooms today is that politics doesn’t sell. Parliament even less so. And policy discussions in Parliament, even if they are about issues that will deeply impact our lives like, say, WTO, not at all.

And journalists are not complaining. Policy stories demand understanding of “boring” technical points. That’s hard work. So much easier to reduce Parliament to a big fight or a one-day match or a sort of Draupadi’s vastraharan — like the first no-confidence motion of the 13th Lok Sabha.

All the reporters had to do was describe the “tone and tenor” for which a few adjectives like “hard-hitting”, “sharp and attacking”, “aggressive”, “combative” or verbs like “slammed” or “lashed out” were enough. Just what our elected representatives want to limit journalists to. Give them circus, they’ll forget to ask questions. And the journos delude themselves they are smarter than our pols.

New at fifty-six

Barkha Dutt is unexpectedly modest. Her riveting programme with Aamir Khan amongst the soldiers in Kargil wasn’t “my idea, it was a corporate decision”.

It wasn’t even meant for August 15 to begin with. The plan was to make a series on the army, along the lines of an old American show called Meet the Troops. It was only later that NDTV decided to sell it — to advertisers and viewers — as an “Independence Day special”.

That explains a lot. How on earth could a 56th anniversary generate anything imaginative or exciting' At 56, there’s nothing special to commemorate. Not for a person, not for a nation. Is it any surprise therefore that the rest of the “Independence Day specials” — especially in print — were such a disaster' Tired ideas like “56 events that changed India” (India Today) and “Surviving India” (Outlook) and “Freedom: a matter of choice” (Times of India) are produced mechanically simply to garner advertisements.

Of course, an Aamir Khan starrer sells itself. Especially when it builds upon the Lagaan hero’s patriotic cache. And this time next year Jai Jawan too may appear just as routine. NDTV has more such plans for our boys.

Hell is yet to freeze

American newspapers are in a bind. They are delighted he has entered the 135-strong fray in California, transforming a state governor’s election into a mega event. Yes, his is the biggest name in the contest and that’s precisely the problem. His name is just too big.

In full, Arnold Schwarzenegger adds up to 20 letters. Take only his last name and that is still 14 letters to squeeze into a headline. And he’s making headlines everyday now.

Arnold of course is shorter, Arnie has both brevity and instant recall. But they don’t do that in the US. As one Washington Post editor has said, they would “start referring to politicians by their first names at about the time hell freezes over”. It appears too chummy, too intimate. No single columns then for the last action hero, whatever he does.

Indian papers have no such constraints. Vajpayee is often “Atal”, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee usually “Buddha”, Sonia rarely “Gandhi”. Our goodwill ambassador from Bihar is more in tune with the Yanks. “Why do you write Laloo'” he asked reporters recently. “Hum tumhara dost nahina ban gaya'” Going by the headlines it would appear he has.

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