E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: The visit of the 44th president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, and his wife, Michelle, was covered by the Indian media in a way reserved historic occasions like the sinking of the Titanic or the invention of penicillin would have been, if only there was 24×7 television.
Everything else that happens in our wide and wonderful land—and everything that is conveyed to us as “Exclusive-Breaking News-Flash-First On” in normal times—was summarily relegated to nanosecond bits before the weather forecast, or bunched together ‘in other news’.
As if nothing else mattered.
If ever there was an overdose of verbal and visual onslaught on, this was one.
Channel after channel, hour after hour, minute after minute, spewed forth raw and unprocessed data of every bit of the Obamas’ three-day trip as if there was no tomorrow. Thankfully, secret service didn’t allow cameras to record and beam footage after the couple retired for the night.
Studio discussions with a pantheon of “experts”—who were seeing the action on TV screens like the rest of us, normal folk, but who were duty-bound to say something wise and illuminating at the same time—only aggravated the national headache enveloping the country.
The newspapers were no different, devoting page after dedicated page.
Truth to tell, fawning over celebrities, especially visiting dignitaries, has been a national obsession for a long time, with ‘Athithi Devo Bhava’ being taken to ridiculous lengths to make the visitor feel at home. But do we have to lose our head and bend our backs as if we have no spine?
When our prime minister visits foreign countries, especially the US, his stay and activities get reported on page 4 of section 2, in the sixth column, for a grand total of 150 words.
Even at the height of the East Pakistan war, prior to the formation of Bangladesh, when Indira Gandhi visited the United States to convince President Richard Nixon, all she was accorded was page 32 or something in the Washington Post.
Walter Cronkite on CBS news or Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC would not give more than 60 seconds on their prime time news, and here we were covering what was essentially a trade trip by a Nobel laureate with vanishing aura back home, as if our lives depended on it.
Despite the gains of the renewed friendship being trumpeted by our networks ad nauseam, Manmohan Singh still barely gets a minute or two in the US media, both electronic and print media. Shouldn’t be there some kind of reciprocity, or a semblance of balance?
Every student in India knows by now that Michelle Obama can play hopscotch and that she studied in Harvard law school. And that she is a better dancer than he.
How many of us in India know that Gurusharan Kaur (that is the PM’s wife for you) is a trained teacher? That she can sing keertans and she has sung in All India Radio many a time? Do US networks ask her play hopscotch in Washington and make her sing on TV when the Singhs are visiting?
No doubt, the Obamas are well educated and enlightened and make a nice couple. But where is the sense of discretion from our media who went crazy for three days lock, stock and smoking gun?