Pettiness could well be our media’s middle-name

CHETAN KRISHNASWAMY writes: The vocal battles raging within the air-conditioned confines of TV studios become evident even for a cursory TV viewer like me. Moreover, the assembly election gimmickry provides delicious fodder.

Prannoy Roy and Rajdeep Sardesai—the redoubtable Bhishma and the adventurist Arjuna of the crackling airwaves—seem to be slugging it out as well.

With CNN-IBN anointing itself as the “No. 1 in prime time” and unambiguously proclaiming its domination over NDTV 24/7 during prime time through double-spread ads across the nation’s  publications, the game of one-upmanship is only bound to escalate in the coming days.

But wait a minute: While watching Roy’s analysis of the Tamil Nadu elections last night something unusual happened. Quite matter of factly, he dipped into the poll surveys of his rival channels CNN-IBN and Times Now – to make his point of how precariously poised elections were in this state.

For once, pettiness made way for professionalism. A rarity among these blustering channels.

The print media too suffers from this malaise, an excessive and irrational distrust of competition, sometimes more pronounced than its electronic friends. Certain newspapers have been known to go to any lengths to undercut competition, or simply blank out even the most news worthy of events if it is promoted by a rival publication.

Another newspaper management routinely sends out memos with terse instructions to editors to exercise restraint and discretion while handling stories involving competitors. In fact, at one point its reporters were prevented from referring to other internet companies, in their stories, as it was thought that it could have an adverse impact on its own portal.

When Yahoo! India was launched with much fanfare in Mumbai, the newspaper and its pink counterpart nonchalantly and as if as a matter of right ignored the event.

Last month, the Kitab Festival saw an interesting mix of personalities from the literary, media and the art world confabulate at New Delhi’s Habitat Centre. Plonked in the last row in a corner seat, one thought there were a number of newsworthy stories that could be picked up by enterprising hacks.  

Writer-diplomat Shashi Tharoor’s inside story of the dilemma within the UN soon after the US announced its plans to invade Iraq could have been converted into a compelling rendition, and if deftly handled, could have been a scoop for the next day. Nothing like that happened.

Quite expectedly, the only newspaper that gave the Festival any play was the Hindustan Times, the chief sponsor of the event.