The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Even George Bush had one last week. A full-dress press conference, that is. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, brainier, wittier, sharper than the US president even on a bad day, hasn’t had even one since he became prime minister. Not one formal press conference so far and another election is nearly upon us. That’ll be a record of sorts. Rather an unexpected one from a prime minister who looks up to Jawaharlal Nehru as his role model.

The first prime minister was very particular about meeting the press regularly, once a month as a rule. Quite like Britain’s current prime minister who is continuing with his monthly press conferences through these troubled times.

Of course, it’s not that Vajpayee has never met the press. But never properly. The prime minister’s men dismiss the “concept of old-fashioned conferences” as “outdated”. But a couple of shouted questions during passing encounters can only provide sound, not light. The confabulations during foreign trips are more extended, but don’t go far enough because domestic issues are usually kept off the agenda. While local issues have perforce dominated the prime minister’s occasional brush with the media in state capitals.

Of course, if the prime minister does acquiesce to this simple request for a proper press conference, we may get two for the price of one: a follow-up press conference to clarify what he really meant at the one the day before.

No need to exclaim

Ethical journalism, that’s an oxymoron if any. So say most people. They could read the book published last weekend on the code of ethics that journalists should, and often do, practise. The book is in Hindi though, Patrakarita ki Lakshman Rekha. That will have even journalists rolling with laughter. Ethics in Hindi journalism, the exclamation marks in their voices would be clearly visible. Which could mean the book’s author, Alok Mehta, editor of Hindi Outlook, will laugh all the way to the bank. After all, Hindi journalism is where the action is, both in television and in print. The immediate provocation for the book was the Gujarat riots. As member of the Editors’ Guild and the Press Council of India, Mehta was closely involved with the reports prepared by both these bodies on the way the media handled events unleashed by Godhra. Both condemned the highly partisan Gujarati media in no uncertain terms.

It was an exact repeat of what happened in Uttar Pradesh in the run-up to the demolition of the Babri mosque. That time it was the local Hindi press that rose to the occasion. May be, just may be, a few of them will think differently after going through Mehta’s book.

The great unwashed

If DD News is here, can elections be far behind' The government, sorry, the autonomous Prasar Bharati board, is racing ahead with its plans to launch a 24-hour news channel on Doordarshan from this November itself.

It involves the throttling of the current DD Metro, which will then be reincarnated as a news channel, with the distinction of being the only terrestrial news channel. No cable, no satellite, but news all day, just what the doctor ordered. Elections focus minds so sharply on the needs of the great unwashed.

Now washed of sins

Pushkaram by night, Nasik by day, there is no escaping the Mahakumbh on NDTV 24x7. Endless images of pilgrims bathing, sadhus dancing, talking heads deliberating the holy dip’s relevance to a society in transition. Prannoy Roy and his team are evidently overwhelmed by the momentous significance of the occasion. Or so they would like to convey.

But then, they do have a reputation to live down. One earned in the glory days on Star, especially during the Gujarat riots. Fortunately for them, religion always sells, whether in the media or in politics. And they already have Nandita Das promoting their channel as “secular and progressive”. The best of both worlds.

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