Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Reporter's story, Editor's story and Anna Hazare

The Indian news media generate public interest through two distinct kinds of stories — the reporter’s story and the editor’s story. In 2005, when Parliament passed the Right to Information Act, which gave any Indian citizen access to most government documents, it was the result of a long and difficult process of influencing public opinion by reformers and persistent reporters. It was never a sexy story. Beat reporters kept pushing the many aspects of the idea of right to information, and the story slowly made its way from the inside pages to the front pages, from the periphery of television reportage to prime-time discussions. It was the reporter’s story, and at the end of it, all the public was reasonably well informed about the act, why it was important and how they could use it.

The anti-corruption movement, on the other hand, was an editor’s story from the very beginning, from the moment Mr. Hazare arrived in New Delhi in April, sat on a wayside with his supporters and threatened to starve to death if the government did not create the Lokpal.

Television news quickly converted Mr. Hazare into a saint who had arrived from his village to fight the corrupt authorities in New Delhi. On the first day of his fast, there were no more than 300 people around him, but the cameras framed the fast in such a way that it gave the impression that something big was going on.

Among his core supporters there were several impoverished poets whose laments were chiefly against “people who go in cars” and “people for whom there are big shiny roads while the poor have nothing to eat.” In short, their laments were not only against politicians, but also against the newly prosperous middle class.

At the time, the television news media, which are largely headquartered in New Delhi, had very little understanding of Mr. Hazare, who is from the western state of Maharashtra. Until last April, his influence was confined to rural parts of Maharashtra. By the time the anchors asked the important question — “Who exactly is Anna Hazare?” — it was too late. They had already proclaimed him a modern saint, and he had amassed millions of supporters in a matter of days. As it turned out, Mr. Hazare is not a man the urban middle class would normally call a saint.
Manu Joseph in The New York Times. Here

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