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JUST A VOICE AND NOTHING PARTISAN

Doordarshan couldn’t have asked for more. A robust credit policy, a surging Sensex, it could launch its 24-hour news channel with feel-good headlines that even the mistrustful chief election commissioner couldn’t cavil at. Nothing controversial, nothing partisan, only hard facts and figures that the entire media salivated over.

It could have been beginner’s luck, but the DD has been there before (though of course that was cable and satellite DD News, not terrestrial as this time round).

No matter, whatever it is it won’t last long. No one really expects DD News to live up to its slogan “truth needs a voice” or sees the government-owned channel as “a civilizing force” that will “strengthen democracy”. It’ll continue to be what it has always been: a part of the government propaganda machine.

The question is, will it be substantively different from the others in the private sector, television or print' Is the rest of the media really as “independent” as it makes itself out to be'

Take just one recent example, that of S.A.R. Geelani, who has just been acquitted of being a conspirator in the December 13, 2001, attack on Parliament. Throughout the episode, the media as a whole portrayed Geelani as a terrorist based on an unquestioning acceptance of the version put out by the police. Anyone interested can read up the grim details recorded with meticulous care by Sevanti Ninan in an article posted on her website, thehoot.org. It makes for sad reading indeed.

Independent is only as independent does. Pointing a finger at a government channel costs nothing. Setting an example does.

Naughty at fifty

Growing old gracefully is always easier said. More so if you are Playboy. The world’s largest-selling men’s magazine, once synonymous with youthful zest, is turning 50 next month. The partying began last week and the coming months will be awhirl with suitably wild festivities. But, is anyone interested' Sales of Playboy are half their peak in the early Seventies and falling; Playboy Inc. hasn’t posted an annual profit since 1999.

For the media, changing the world makes no business sense whatsoever. That is what Hugh Hefner, the founder and editor of Playboy, set out to do when he put together the first issue with borrowed money on his kitchen table in Chicago. He saw himself as a prophet of freedom.

He was not wrong. That first December issue, featuring a Marilyn Monroe with “nothing on but the radio”, started a revolution that spread like wildfire throughout the United Sates and, in time, to all parts of the world. (Banning Playboy may have slowed down the contagion in India but could hardly be a prophylactic.) Today, Hefner rightly says, “We live in a Playboy world now.”

The consequence: Playboy has become an irrelevance. Even in India, where the sex revolution came late. A film, opening this month, has a Playboy bunny in the lead, the first to act in an Indian film. Who cares' It’s hard to imagine the excitement the magazine once generated — when it carried the interview of Jawaharlal Nehru in October 1963 or after, when smuggled copies of Playboy were valued higher than a bottle of Chivas Regal. At times, repression can be the media’s best playmate.

A friendly magazine

Time could have been hanging heavy for Rajat Sharma. He was working flat out to make his own television channel, India TV, happen by this January. It now appears that it will get pushed till May or so. So what is Sharma doing in the meantime' He hosted a party last week at the Hyatt for the launch of a TV magazine. The magazine, says Rajat, is being brought out by a Mumbai business house and he is just helping out, he isn’t really involved in it. Oh really' Whatever, print is still the best place to promote your television wares and a friendly TV magazine can only come in handy for someone determined to take on the big boys of television.

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