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It would be such a welcome change, and far more interesting than that which is being repeated ad nauseum on every election show, to have an occasional programme where the non-obvious position is stated and a scenario for the immediate present as well as for the future is put forth. We have been told, over and over again, by every television channel and by various polls and surveys that Narendra Modi is the champion with a substantial lead, and is, therefore, bound to assume the top job in New Delhi in 2014 and also that the Bharatiya Janata Party’s great development programme will conquer all anti-incumbency in the states. This carefully crafted ‘prophecy’ is much like an ad campaign being shouted out to draw voters towards the one who is being projected as the ‘winner’ by the concerned political party.

There is no media honcho who seems to have the political acumen and intellectual wherewithal to ask real questions. It is always superficial and dull after the first round of pontification. Nuances and a wide range of voices are never heard. Viewers are bombarded with predictable clichés by loud-mouthed, unpleasant, holier-than-thou party spokespeople who are all discredited as biased in the eyes of those watching. It is embarrassing to hear the babble. The level of analysis, speculation, reading of the situation and more is poor and simplistic. Much of the ‘predictions’ and the ‘comments’ are personalized. Anchors seem to follow the political positions of their anna-datas. Others appear to be currying favour with those who are seen to be winning. The fact that this genuflecting is so obvious as it spills over the footlights only proves that the media act as ‘live entertainment’, where scapegoats are hauled over coals, mocked and made fun of, without any serious presentation of the layered and dynamic complexities of this extraordinary democracy.

Shape the market

When confronted with this question of supreme superficiality laced with high-voltage ego, media men and women explain away their inadequate rendering of events by suggesting that ‘the people’ want the mirch masala and the sensational, not substantive information, and that they are, in fact, reflecting the level and interests of the public. Is that what, say, the school curricula should do too? Should university lecturers dumb themselves down for lazy students? Should novelists and storytellers write junk because there is a market out there for the sub-standard? Should Bharatanatyam dancers do the hip-hop? It sounds so frightfully absurd that it merits no discussion when one is told that ‘the market wants it’. Surely, the challenge is to shape the market with facts, ideas and wonderfully crafted entertainment based on great stories?

It is such a joy to watch the serials done by Granada Television and the BBC. The range is staggering, from historical series to social comedy. Quality is the hallmark of such programmes. News from across the world is presented with research, and spoken sensibly, without hysteria. Stories of unbearable brutality are presented with measured dignity, unlike on our small screen. Big business houses control the electronic media and that same ‘controlled’ media attack other similarly ‘controlled’ institutions. Sadly, hypocrisy is the hallmark here.

India will become a confident, truly liberal democracy when its media mature and raise the bar of discussion, debate and quality, based on non-partisan, non-controlled freedom of the mind. Dissenting views need to be aired and argued with intelligent catalysts who do not put their personal views forward but, instead, dissect the interventions being made and leave the final take to the viewers. To look down upon the Indian viewers from a pedestal is distasteful.