Saturday, October 17, 2009

The problem with cable news thinking

For the past few years I wondered if I will be able to articulate the essence of the times we lived in and the the role of main stream TV media which shapes our perceptions in a succinct manner

Off late the addiction to connecting with top rated news casters and interacting with them in tandem on twitter brought out a sense of sensationalism that we as urban audience seek from our media.

These thoughts from Seth Godin ..Nail a few pertinent points..Hope you will agree read on

Not only the networks of all political persuasions that come to mind, but the mindset they represent...

When I was growing up, Eyewitness News always found a house on fire in South Buffalo. "Tonight's top story," Irv Weinstein would intone, "...a fire in South Buffalo." Every single night. If you watched the news from out of town, you were sure that the city must have completely burned to the ground.

Cable news thinking has nothing to do with fires or with politics. Instead, it amplifies the worst elements of emotional reaction:

1.Focus on the urgent instead of the important.
2.Vivid emotions and the visuals that go with them as a selector for what's important.
3.Emphasis on noise over thoughtful analysis.
4.Unwillingness to reverse course and change one's mind.
5.Xenophobic and jingoistic reactions (fear of outsiders).
6.Defense of the status quo encouraged by an audience self-selected to be uniform.
7.Things become important merely because others have decided they are important.
8.Top down messaging encourages an echo chamber (agree with this edict or change the channel).
9.Ill-informed about history and this particular issue.
10.Confusing opinion with the truth.
11.Revising facts to fit a point of view.
12.Unwillingness to review past mistakes in light of history and use those to do better next time.

If I wanted to hobble an organization or even a country, I'd wish these twelve traits on them. I wonder if this sounds like the last board meeting you went to...

Seth Godin.


I wonder if we can manage to get of these trappings and deliver a media experience fostering nation building and a positive environment ??

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Jhakas on Advani,Aamir and Outsiders

Shri LK Advani was making a sad spectacle of himself, indulging in taking personal pot-shots at the fast-recuperating PM Manmohan Singh, terming him as a timid weakling, even as Narendra Modi, much inspired, launched his own sharp volley of typical derogatory.

For a veteran leader who has perennially planned an ambitious restful night at 7, Race Course Road, it was sheer self-mockery where the BJP supremo was concerned.

Advani has had a deep pathological disrespect for Manmohan Singh, and this is not just evident because of the expected mud-slinging during election time. Even at the time of the nuclear debate and other issues, the 0.5 kg dumb-bell lifting marathon man could only think of accusing Manmohan of being a pulpy softie, being guardedly observed by Mrs Sonia Gandhi. But the true reason why Advani loathes Singhji is because in the deadly inner club of the political class, it is considered almost blasphemous to have a successful bureaucrat, non-political, Rajya Sabha member, utterly unassuming and totally devoid of political machinations, be the Prime Minister.

Worse, Manmohan Singh has turned out to be a canny survivor with a creditable track-record; Advani is understandably hurting.

For Advani that is sheer sacrilege. LKA believes, like a good "old school"-boy of 82 years, that the real throne must be occupied by a hard-core, intrinsic political sort, no matter how deviously cunning, egregiously corrupt or totally asinine he may be. For him, even his most cherished CPM rival Prakash Karat, a seasoned politician, is a better bet than the rank "outsider" Singh.

It is the same problem that afflicts a certain slight man with a calculated smile, suffering from massive delusions of self-importance; actor Aamir Khan.

Aamir Khan is like Advani, similarly obsessed with a rank "outsider" in Shah Rukh Khan who has dominated tinsel-town with inexorable strangle-hold for over 15 years. For Aamir that is an inexcusable intransigence, and he vents his frustration like a petulant "puppy" (the pun on the famous "dog comment" is blatantly deliberate, folks) denied his juicy bone.

It is a human condition that certain occupations develop incestuous co-habitation for survival, no matter how much they privately find each other as repugnant as a lizard's tail in a blue lagoon cocktail; media, bankers, models, Bollywood and politics, amongst some illustrious ones.

The truth is that it was Aamir who indulged in the most pedestrian "joke" about a national icon and fellow colleague by referring to him as a "dog" in his now-defunct blog. In my opinion, that was not just low-cut, it was downright scurvy.

Ever since, he seems to take a sadistic delight in playing below-the-belt stuff, even as he blames the cigarette-puffing SRK for his cocky arrogance.

But Khan's real indignation is about how a lonely struggling Dilliwallah stormed Bollywood and became it's undisputed ruler with a resounding territorial conquest, while despite his huge kinship and entrenched props in his own turf, Aamir Khan himself got forced into nebulous oblivion. His recent media-savvy excursions are a ham-handed effort to reclaim the throne that he think is an insider's birth-right, not an outsider's prerogative to capture. That's why the massive sulk. That's why, like Advani, there is an occasional display of shocking condescension for the "other" guy.

But life is ironical. Isn't it rather strange that in the daily maddening scramble in the April heat and dust-storm of Indian elections, all the PM hopefuls (and they are so many the laundry-list dries up my ink), Sharad Pawar, Lalu Prasad, Mr Gowda the Great, Mayawati, Ram Vilas Paswan, Naveen Patnaik, Advani et al are busy attempting every ruse, diabolical trap, and cloak and dagger games to somehow scramble to achieve a life-long ambition, while the modest, sincere Sardar is in London, representing India in the G-20 Summit, with perhaps the best personal knowledge about the current financial crisis in that elite lot of high-profile statesmen?

As someone once said---It's destiny. Danny Boyle will agree. I don't know about Aamir and Advani though.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bulldozing with Road Rollers & Shoes protests.

A small village in Pulwaria in Bihar. Yes that is where the earthy Lalu Prasad Yadav originated from. Oozing oodles of charisma propelled the mass leader’s ascent to the higher echelons of Indian politics.

That’s the Lalu we know who has endeared the Indian electorate for a near 3 plus decades. Lalu’s championing of a secular India is well chronicled. That a greater section of the political circle wields the secular stance to the political vantage across the nation is also amply evident in the annals of India’s 6- years of democracy.

Yadav’s penchant for accentuating the effectiveness of his people connects both at the election rally or on the floors of the parliament using sharp humor is legendary. Who can forget the “Agar tum hame na chaho to koi shikayat nahi hai , magar tum kisi aur ko chao to muskil hoga” quip at parliament aimed at the Left comrades during the high tension nuclear debate last year.

But the season that it seems is shaping into a season of hara-kiri as leader after leader has been caught on camera delivering hate speeches.

Kishangunj may well turn out to be Lalu’s waterloo.A wrong wicket for sure for the Yadav. We are all glad that the veteran is the Union Railway Minister and not the Home Minister. Lest he would have flattened young Varun for his “Cut the hands which raises its hand on Hindus” and the Osama likening of his opposition candidate at Pilibhit.

The 17 crore Muslims for whom Lalu spoke sure will not identify themselves with the road roller strategy nor will the billions of Hindu’s with the Varun speech. Elsewhere at Andhra Pradesh the AICC President D Srinivas too threaten to cut the hand of people pointing fingers on Muslims.

My fellow citizens, lets understand that Anti Muslim or Pro Muslim or Pro any minority isn’t or Pro Hindus aren’t ingredients of Secular platform. The platform simplistically emanates from a large hearted mindset of understanding and empathy of the other. A secular platform built on tolerance toward one another. Appreciation of the good essence of each religious caste or community.

Now what I outlined is not new nor is it alien to the every day life of Hindu, Muslim, Christians and Sikhs. Each day at Lucknow, Hyderabad it is a way of life. Be it Bandra, Shivaji Nagar, Charminar in the by lanes of Chandi Chouk or at the Lake City of Nainital.

Then why do we continue to allow opportunistic politicians like Raj Thackeray, Bal Thackeray, Advani, and now Lalu & Varun to sway our public opinion. Its time we put an end to yielding to such divisive forces and elect the ones focused on combating terror, recession and failing healthcare systems.

Today is also a day when we were glad that Lalu isn’t the Home Minister and a soft-spoken present Home Minister Chidambram took on the sick Sikh aggressors shoe fling protest. Chidambram reveled in the tight spot with a graceful presence of mind. Not allowing the situation to highjack the moment and requesting his personal security officers to be gentle on the Sardar.

Not pressing charges on the Jarnail Singh if viewed in isolation of the event is also an act of a mighty heart. Yet the politics of politics is such an opportunist that BJP and SP quickly swung into action scoring political brownie points.

Jarnail Singh might well have succeeded today in upping the ante on the 1984 Sikh riots case and the cause of Sikhs to be peeved with the reprieve handed to Mr.Piolt. Whether Congress persists and fields Mr.Piolt is another matter. The method of hate exhibition and displeasure by insulting the Union Minister and bringing disrepute to the journalists of the country is a damage done in greater proposition.

Imagine the plight of journalists who will be advised to leave their footwear outside when they enter a press conference. We are a nation whose freedom was won by a universally acknowledged form of protest. Non Violence! Non Cooperation!

The media is one of the important vehicle which brings instances bereft of tolerance and understanding. If people like Jarnail Singh act mindlessly and take a short cut to fame their credibility of being a messenger of tolerance takes a severe toll.

Bulldozing with a Shoe gate controversy or suggesting using a Road Roller to suppress another hate speech perpetrator with a hate speech of a different kind is a walk treaded down the wrong path.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Common Salt Manifesto and a Common Minimum Program.

The largest democracy over the next month and a half will decide on the government which will have the reins to lead India in an uncertain world. A billion votes will count to decide either on the performance of the last government or the promised that the government failed to deliver or buy what the opposition parties serve to meet the aspirations of the general public.

Either ways one of the lynch pins which gives the voter a cue is the party manifesto. Gone are those days when manifestos started and ended with “Roti Capada Aur Makan” . Today’s vanilla agrarian manifestos have outlasted their utility as the environment around the 60 year old democratic country has changed drastically.

The issues, aspirations and basic needs of the citizen are as wide and varied as the nation itself. Going by the demands of a separate Telengana state, India may soon be a United Country of more than 30 states as the sly politician will realize that he may have a better chance to usurp power from a small electoral mass.

The larger issues that India faces as the largest democracy and the most plural state in the world are the sheer length and breadth of the canvass of the electorate. Add to the mire the number of parties wooing the masses.

Consider the US and India, two of the most vibrant democracies in the world. Here is my attempt to simplify and articulate the nuances of differences which are as stark in contrast as chalk and cheese.

By and large the US voter has just two parties and two candidates to choose from. Unless if you consider the indefatigable Ross Perot who garnered 25 + % votes when he contested. The US also has an effective Presidential democratic system where year long debates and primaries lead to the myriad issues; those get percolated to Presidential candidate who in return owns up the issues with his and his parties ideologies and locus standing. The US presidential campaign begins very early giving ample time for the voter to understand the candidates better.

India on the contrast has over two national parties along with several regional parties and off course 540 members of the parliament elected from thousands of aspirants who in turn are supported by a few lakh ardent supporters whose loyalties are ever always questionable.

In addition to electing members to the Lok Sabha, there are state wise assembly polls which elect over 6000 members of the legislative assembly from an aspirant pool of a few lakh citizens.

Having attempted an appreciation to the magnitude we are aware that it is quite a challenge to wrap a party manifesto inclusive of all the voters’ aspirations. The voters hail from urban, rural India and their issues dived between welfare, food, cost of living, call for basic amenities, safe society, prevention of terror attacks , swift and able support in the wake of natural disasters, basic health care and education and up liftment of the backward and minority communities. What I call a “Common Salt Manifesto”

Seldom in the past have we had governments - coalition or single party adhere to the common minimum programs after being voted to power. Yet the Election Commission could exercise its powers to bring about a feasible and viable common minimum program applicable to all the contesting parties as a default qualification to contest in an election.

The common minimum program can broadly encompass basic necessities like affordable homes, food, health care, education and agrarian soaps to mitigate unpredictable weather and droughts. A lack of a statutory qualification filter of contesting parties to adhere to a common minimum program by the election commission will lead to a few parties to garner mandate from the electorate based on vote bank politics using caste, communal and divisive ideologies. A common minimum program could also be crafted taking into account the pressing needs meeting challenges posed due to external factors.

How else can one explain the lack of focus of none of the parties to address in their manifestos the worst global recession since 1938 to have hit India as much as it has affected global economies?

Populist, short sighted exchequer draining electoral soaps like free color televisions, free powers, loan waivers, subsidized rice or wheat and reservations for backward classes dominate the manifestos. Yet no mention in intent and detail outlined on the promise of protecting the nation against terror attacks and provide bullet proof jackets to the men who protect civilians every day? We have as an electorate almost given up on an expectation of a cover of social security? Haven’t we?

As to foreign policy, it is never an agenda in the radar of a political party when contesting elections? How else can we explain the non rebuttal of Indian Foreign Affairs and Diplomatic offices condemning continued funding to a terror state like Pakistan? What if there isn’t a blank cheque granted to Pakistan government by US? 1.5 Billion USD is also quite a sum in incentive to a government harboring Dawood Ibrahim, Masood Azhar and feeding SWAT and FATA regions? In short Foreign policy is not an electoral agenda when it is for most developed nations? Wasn’t that a primary reason why Republicans for voted out of office last December?

Indeed, it is a challenge to have an all encompassing manifesto and a wholly inclusive common minimum program pleasing a billion variety of asks from its citizens. But that does not absolve the need for parties to sit down and take pains to articulate a wide variety of issues and proactive measures that each party would take to render good governance to the Indian public. Or an opportunity that Election Commission can utilize to create a criteria factor purporting the “Common Salt Manifest” to all parties in the fray.

Lest we don’t pay heed to the many pertinent sore eye issues those challenge us today and will tomorrow and serve it up to the politicians as fodder to play the game of nation building politics in accord to the rules laid by the constitution of India; it may be a futile exercise of a billion voters’s ushering a fresh round of musical chairs every five years at the highest institution of India – Parliament.

And before long it may be too late in the day to change the current currency minting, power garnering gluttony game to what was meant to be a serious indulgence of “We the People, By the People, For the People”