We live in an "eventocracy”. This is a new form of democracy where there is nothing greater than the event. Any policy announcement has so many events that people have begun to believe in the arrival of an avatar. They believe a divine voice is being heard from the skies.
The politician as policy announcer appears on a stage, like a divine being. The stage itself resembles calendar art, with heavenly rays shining behind a great soul’s head.
When the event becomes the norm of democracy, fact is replaced by fiction and implementation by intention — these become vital. In the era of demonetisation, intention has become divine, while implementation is merely human. Now is a good time to change the class ten essay topic. Instead of "honesty is the best policy”, "intention is better than implementation” and "fiction is better than fact” should be posed. These could elicit rather entertaining replies.
An eventocracy needs a new issue, a new controversy every month. This can’t happen without new fictional facts being used all the time; hence, it becomes essential to use news channels and other media in this work.
Governments can change. An eventocracy’s first-lead hero can thus change. But the hero of the second lead stays fixed. That is the news anchor. Friend of the big messiah — the small messiah. There is an old Bollywood film Ram-Balram — the politician and the anchor are the eventocracy’s Ram-Balram.
Anchors aren’t just creating fiction; they’re becoming characters in the fiction they themselves create. In the world of TV channels, facts are presented like fiction, so governments aren’t inconvenienced; fiction is presented like fact, so governments stay happy.
In February-March, with the JNU episode, this became formalised. JNU was necessary because without a villain, a hero can’t be a hero.
We need a Singham-like hero; but without a villain, the hero is a softie. In the JNU episode, through "nationalism”, fiction was treated like fact. This yielded several villains, all herded under one name: "Anti-national”.
To prove persons anti-national, anchors started using fiction over fact. (Before the Pulitzer committee could start awarding prizes for fictional journalism, to win these, Indian channels have started doing fictional journalism). A university campus, its teachers and students were made out to be villains. Students who were apparently shouting anti-India slogans haven’t been found to this day. The authenticity of the video where they were seen shouting such slogans is still debated over — was it real or false?
But in such fictional journalism, it is crucial that one section of the media announces itself as "real journalists”. Invoking the nation, many "real” anchors rose above fact. They announced that other channels, other anchors were anti-nationals. "Anti-national media” and "anti-national anchors” are two new categories under fictional journalism. Indeed, government-supporting nationalist anchors should immediately be declared national assets, so that 20 years later, they can be declared "heritage”.
We need some heritage in our journalism too.
In an eventocracy, there is only one hero. And whoever is not with the hero — opponents, critics, dissenters — can only be anti-nationals. Today, anchors using nationalism within fictional media have not just acquired the status of kangaroo courts. They have acquired the status of courts themselves. In fact, this year, within the premises of a court, a kangaroo court played out, lawyers attacking journalists.
News channels have become theatres, where the same film is shown under two or three different names; the aim is always the same. In an eventocracy, the theatre is quite important. This is why the court has now ordained the playing of the national anthem before films are played.
As the year closes, some good things are happening too. In the JNU block where the flag was unfurled and slogans shouted, flowerpots have been placed. In fact’s place, fiction has been set. When exactly poetry about flowers is fact or fiction though, only a good poet can tell us. Not a journalist.
I am moved to laughter. What would you call such a media? Why not "comedy-plus-media” or "comedia”? In western Uttar Pradesh’s Kairana, a Kashmir was discovered. Several stories about an exodus from Kairana were planted, over which claims and counter-claims erupted. But many believed that if the media was showing this, it must be correct. In the era of note-bandi, the announcement of there being a chip in the new Rs 2,000 note was made with the assurance of such a fact that, despite the government’s negation, people kept searching for the chip in the note.
The best writers of our country have not been able to understand the power of such fiction. Amitav Ghosh still writes fiction based on fact — our media has begun to write fact based on fiction.
TRPs are the new public mandate. The TRPs of interviews with politicians are shown as promos. We are told, so many crore people watched this — in a way, this is a mandate within a mandate. This is box office journalism. The ultimate decision now is, who is the media super-hit of the week and who flopped.
It is essential that the election commission now inducts the agencies that estimate TRPs — or the government announces these agencies as also being the election commission.
The author is a news anchor with NDTV. The article was translated from Hindi by Srijana Mitra Das