Bringing politics closer home

Bringing politics closer home

 If you’re wondering why nobody is discussing the deadlock over the Communal Violence Bill, 2005, in spite of the increasing violence; if you’re piqued by the lack of interest in Satya Vrat Shastri, the first recipient of the Gyanpeeth award in Sanskrit; or if you just need some respite from relentless advertisements, try Lok Sabha Television (LSTV).

The 24-hour channel launched in 2006 was the brainchild of former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee. It broadcasts proceedings live from the parliament, with the aim of bringing citizen closer to its functioning. Although watching our representative democracy at work isn’t always inspiring viewing, the channel’s panel discussions, interviews, educational programmes and week-end feature films, certainly are.

The issues covered in shows such as Awaaz Aap Ki/Street Talk, Sansad Se Sadak Tak, Village Voice/Gram Sabha, Ekla Chalo and Know Your MP, are wide-ranging, topical and timely. Since language is often at the core of identity struggles, the bi-lingual programming brings more nuance into discussions on gender politics, the rural-urban divide, cultural affairs and human rights.

 The current crop of private news channels has certain commonalties: high Target Rating Points as intent, oversimplified content and ‘manufacturing consent’. They make the relevant irrelevant and the insignificant, an issue of national importance, depending largely on how its urban, middle-class viewers or corporate sponsors are affected.

LSTV has no such market constraints and the difference is most apparent in the debates and panel discussions. Mahesh Bhatt and Suhel Seth are not summoned to comment on everything under the sun, in the name of We the People. The channel is not vying to be the sole voice of the country, so the outcome of the debate never seems predetermined. Panelists are given time to think and are allowed to complete their sentences. The moderators are well-informed, cordial without being over-familiar and incisive in their interventions.

 In Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985), the media theorist and cultural critic Neil Postman, points out that on television, discourse is conducted largely through visual imagery. Private channels are preoccupied with the spectacle of an event rather than its process.

 Since LSTV is largely studio-based the viewer is not fed an overdose of visually well-constructed ‘context-free information’. But the channel could do itself a favour by breaking out of the dreary Doordarshan mould and exploring the creative possibilities of the medium.

 With the focus on transparency, LSTV does not accept any corporate advertisements, lending it more credibility than its private counterparts. One can’t help doubting the ethics of news channels that telecast fairness cream advertisements, spend prime time promoting the latest films and fashions and allow brand endorsements in news spaces (what does the weather report have to do with aviation?).

Ironically, despite being a state-run channel, LSTV manages to offer a mature critique of the state and its policies. The presenters are not seduced by statistics. Refreshingly, you find writers, social scientists, historians and social workers discussing the impact of various measures.

But the channel cannot yet claim to be progressive, since voices from marginalised groups, continue to struggle for space. Dalit issues, tribal rights, LGBT concerns and other questions that force us to reject formal definitions of a ‘national’ media, are rarely explored.      
 Eventually, LSTV might not give you the privileged high of an ‘exclusive’ story, it might not give you the satisfaction of having participated in changing the fate of the country through an SMS and it might not even paint too pretty a picture, but that is why, you might like it.

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