Paswan Junior vs Lalu Junior

In the Chirag Paswan vs Tejashwi Yadav ratings it seems as if the former has stolen the limelight. While he is all over the media, from his decision to break away from the NDA, his declaration that he is a Hanuman to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and carries his picture in his heart if not on his posters and the tragic demise of his father the late Ram Vilas Paswan, it is Chirag who has become Bihar polls’ most talked about face. His counterpart Tejashwi, however, is missing from the TV screens, even though he has the backing of the Congress (and its national media machinery) to help him get some publicity. Is it that Tejashwi is camera shy? Or that the Congress only wants to promote their own in Bihar?

Congress Spokespersons’ Exodus

After Khushboo Sundar’s exit much is being made about the fact that the Congress Party has lost five spokespersons in a row. The others being Priyanka Chaturvedi, Tom Vadakkan, Ajoy Kumar (who has rejoined the party) and Sanjay Jha. The last mentioned has so far only been suspended, and as he is fond of saying, “I am still with the Congress though I am not sure the Congress is still with me.” Well, the Congress is not the only party to have such a high casualty rate, we have seen Gaurav Bhatia, who was once with the SP now firmly with the BJP. Pankuri Pathak too moved from SP to Congress, Shazia Ilmi from AAP to BJP and so on. Do the political parties need to relook their spokespersons’ model? In the old days it was the senior leaders who had already achieved gravitas who were fielded to the media, such as V.N. Gadgil, Arun Jaitley, Pramod Mahajan and Sushma Swaraj. Today, the road to seniority seems to be via the TV screens. And therein lies the problem.

War on WhatsApp

The Kamal Nath vs Jyotiraditya Scindia battle is being played out in the 28 Madhya Pradesh bypolls due in November, for 25 of these seats belong to those MLAs who had defected from the Congress to the BJP and a majority of these (16) are in Scindia’s stronghold. The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government just needs to win five of these bypoll seats to survive, but Scindia needs to win a whole lot more to prove his relevance to the BJP. It’s equally interesting to note the absence of Scindia’s face from the bulk of BJP posters, as is the fact that he is listed number 10 in the line of the party’s star campaigners well below not just the Chief Minister but also others like Narender Singh Tomar and V.D. Singh (state BJP Chief). Clearly, Scindia is fighting a two-tier battle here.

Both Nath and Scindia are giving these bypolls more importance than the Covid threat and feverishly working the campaign trail—on ground and not digitally. Nath can be heard talking about Scindia’s history of betrayal from the time when the clan betrayed Jhansi ki Rani. Both Nath and Scindia camps are also flooding WhatsApp videos to show how the other’s campaign has flopped. And so Nath’s team sends videos where you can hear “Scindia Murdabad” being chanted, while Scindia’s team shows rows of empty seats at Congress rallies. And that’s how they are fighting the bypolls, both on ground and via WhatsApp.

Toxic TRPs

Speaking to NewsX, former I&B Minister Manish Tewari (UPA) made an interesting revelation. He said that during his stint in office he asked the DAVP for figures regarding government spend on media advertising. To his surprise he was told that of the 10 leading media outlets in the country the Central government spend is only 5% of their ad revenues. This figure goes up to 10% when you add state governments and PSUs. So he concluded that to say that government controls content because it is a major revenue source is a myth, though what it does is to cater to the bread and butter expenditure of the TV channels. Manish is right, it is the corporates that contribute the larger chunk but let’s not forget the power of the government to nudge some corporates in favour of one channel over the other. Of late though there are some like Parle G and Rahul Bajaj who have declared that they will not sponsor channels that show hate content and that in itself is a silver lining during these toxic times.

Divided We Broadcast

There was always competition, but never has the media been as divided as it is today, especially post the Sushant Singh Rajput case coverage. The entire case got divided into liberals versus pro government channels as one gave a platform to prime accused Rhea Chakraborty and the other blasted not just Rhea but the entire Bollywood industry. The divide further intensified when the “TRP scam” broke and channels took sides. There are even differences over BARC’s decision to suspend ratings for three months and rework the system. While the Rajat Sharma-led News Broadcasters Association (NBA) approved of this, the Arnab Goswami-led News Broadcasters Federation (NBF) has objected to this. Go, figure!