Saturday, November 19, 2011
The medium is the mess
But if an ‘advisory’ is the answer, then here’s my very own...
So, the press is everyone’s favourite whipping boy these days; or should I say the media, given that TV channels get as much – if not more – flak than newspapers. Journalists are accused of everything from venality and corruption to plain stupidity. We are told that we are neither well-educated nor well-read; that our priorities are all wrong; that we can’t tell the wood from the trees. And that given a choice we would rather focus on cricket and Shah Rukh Khan than on farmers’ suicides or the maternal mortality rate.
To be fair – and despite being part of that much-maligned breed, a journalist, I do try to be fair – there is certainly something to this criticism. Yes, we do tend to go overboard when India wins the cricket World Cup. We attain a near-hysterical pitch when Saif Ali Khan starts dating Kareena Kapoor. We have turned the phrase ‘Breaking News’ into a running gag on television by splashing it randomly across the board to any news items that comes through on the wire services. And we have made the term ‘Exclusive’ meaningless by applying it to interviews granted to every media outlet.
So, yes, the media have a lot to answer for. But I don’t think that the answer lies in issuing risible ‘advisories’ on how the media should – and should not – cover the birth of Baby B, the first-born child of Abhishek and Aishwarya (helpful pointers included: don’t position OB vans outside the hospital; don’t run astrology shows about the date of the baby’s birth; don’t run ‘Breaking News’ tags on the item; don’t reveal the sex of the baby – okay, I made the last one up, but just barely). Quite apart from the fact that this was hardly a seminal event in the history of the nation which warranted an ‘advisory’ (how about one on the Manipur blockade, guys, or even the children’s death from encephalitis in Uttar Pradesh?), it was also singularly pointless because there wasn’t a hope in hell that the habitual offenders would pay the slightest attention to it.
But inspired by this example and in keeping with the same spirit, I thought I would issue an ‘advisory’ of my own: a list of dos and don’ts for when you are dealing with the media.
1) Don’t open the door to any place you don’t want the media to go. Because once you allow entry there is no getting rid of them. So, if you agree to dish the dirt on your love life, your marriage or your divorce while you are promoting a book/movie/music album, then consider yourself warned. From then on, it will be open season on you. And you won’t really be in a position to object, given that you opened the door to that line of questioning in the first place. So, if you had no compunctions giving lovey-dovey joint interviews with your girlfriend when you were in the first throes of love, then don’t throw a hissy fit if the media go mad with speculative stories when you split up or when you are caught cheating on her. You made that bed; now they will report who lies in it.
2) If you don’t like the way a particular television channel conducts its prime-time news debates, then don’t agree to appear on it. It’s really not that hard to do. When the guest coordinator calls to ask if you are free to appear on such-and-such show, take a deep breath, say a polite thank you for the invitation, and say no. Keep saying no every time they call. In a couple of weeks, the invitations will dry up of their own accord. And you can spend the evenings at home, sipping your whiskey/wine and relaxing on that well-worn couch.
It beats the hell out of the alternative: driving miles out to some god-forsaken studio, shouting to be heard over the five other people on the panel, being lectured to by some self-righteous anchor, losing your temper or worse still, losing it on national television, and threatening to walk out. And then making an absolute fool of yourself by turning up on the show the very next night, to be slapped around all over again.
Honestly, why subject yourself to this daily humiliation? Do yourself a favour. Stay at home. And if you must get your blood pressure elevated, do so in the privacy of your own drawing room, while shouting invective at the TV screen. I do it every evening. And believe me, it works like a charm.
3) Let’s assume that you have no choice but to engage with the media despite all your reservations about it. Stick to the policy perfected by American politicians over the decades. Decide before you go on what message you want to get across to the watching masses. And then stick to that message no matter what the anchor or reporter asks. Remember, it’s not the questions that will stay with the viewers; it’s your answers that will stick.
Or better still, avoid mainstream news outlets altogether and rely on social media to get your message across. Given how obsessed mainstream media is with Twitter and the like, you’ll get the same amount of coverage anyway – and without having to go through the middleman, as it were.
And thus ends my own little ‘advisory’. (Follow at your own peril.)