Big Story Fatigue

After months of exposure to searing, sweeping single-story coverage which has shaken our beliefs about ourselves, I have big story fatigue. The most visible symptom of this condition is a yearning for comic relief. The patient is so steeped in the darker humours that anything cheerful will serve for an upper, even common or garden TV dyslexia. I got three good hits this week. But to be fair, in all three cases, the channels inadvertently purveyed humour made up elsewhere.

When Nitin Gadkari was not assured of a second term but no one knew how it would pan out, CNN-IBN offered the best coverage of the story, with Sumit Pande explaining the rules under which a contest would play out. It was instructive, since the BJP president has always been selected by consensus. Of course, Rajnath Singh has secured a consensus, so the contest route remains untested. But the channel's next story produced a howler. The news anchor declared that Om Prakash Chautala, who was adjusting to life in Tihar Jail, was former chief minister of Himachal Pradesh. Perhaps a dim echo of Virbhadra Singh's election, which CNN-IBN had celebrated quite a bit?

Meanwhile, the BBC led its coverage of the world's biggest chat show at Davos with an interview of Boris Johnson. What could have been a plug for the mayor of London, set against a dramatic alpine backdrop, became a rather interesting exercise, with Johnson being allowed to hardsell his city and demonstrate his support to his prime minister's threat to pull out of Europe, but in a raffishly sceptical atmosphere.

Good show, but the guest who appeared after Johnson, was Imran Khan. The man that Salman Rushdie — who is doing the rounds in Delhi with the film version of Midnight's Children — disparages as Im the Dim. Though, I think, that wonderful name first appeared in Jugnu Mohsin's column in the Friday Times. Im is expected to stand for election on an anti-corruption platform, an unlikely cross-border version of Anna Hazare. But in the course of this interview, which wandered a bit, perhaps on account of the legendary wine list at Davos, he went and referred to the National Accountability Bureau of Pakistan, the apex anti-corruption office, as the "anti-investigation bureau". Maybe it was a Freudian slip. In our region, the political community secretly but strongly believes that if corruption were contained, politics would die for lack of oxygen. An anti-investigation agency would be handy indeed.

Finally, there was the footage of Ajay Mohan Sharma, SSP of Etah, as he apparently dived down to touch the feet of Samajwadi Party general secretary Ramgopal Yadav. Times Now seized upon it like a retriever seizes a fallen duck. "Shameless, completely sycophantic!" spluttered an enraged Arnab Goswami, and he carried the battle into the Opposition camp, too, pulling up a video of Mayawati having her shoes cleaned by a policeman detailed to protect her. But as usual, Goswami's passion got the better of him. "TV and video do not lie, as you do," he said, apparently addressing the audience, whom he then exhorted to report this footage on social media. Viewers were asked to do whatever they could to spread the word and end the disgraceful tradition of sycophancy in uniform, no matter if the person in question is a "Ram Gopal Varma". Varma, Yadav, what's the difference? The strategy was tactically sound, since Goswami was actually asking Facebookers to plug his channel, but it's a bit uncomfortable-making. Media and social media are different things, with different dynamics. Of course they must connect — all things connect in the networked world — but deliberately integrating them may lead to unpredictable results.

But I ought to be ashamed, getting cheap thrills out of the dyslexia of harried anchors. Besides, this week has been such a pleasant break from the unrelenting, single-point focus that has come to characterise news that comic relief is really unnecessary. In recent weeks, we have been swamped by wave after wave of story, each wave horizon to horizon, leaving no room for anything else.

Stories about the split in Anna's movement, policy paralysis, corruption, black money, all helped to generate the groundswell for the rape story, which crowded everything else out of India's mindspace. But this week, we found Zee following up on the train surfing story and Samay lavishing airtime on the Kumbh Mela. Nice to know that while we were transfixed with a single, world-altering story, elsewhere, life went on.

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