So was our former transport and tourism minister G S Bali on the wrong side of the law? I’m not sure about that, but he certainly was on the wrong side of media. Himachal is just opening up to outside world and is yet to learn the grimmer tricks of PR and keeping the media happy. I’ll come back to it later. Before that…
I don’t believe if Congressmen including Bali say that there is an hidden agenda behind the sting operation carried on the latter by a private news channel (Star News) or a smart pull by the opposition, especially when there are just over six months to go for the state assembly elections.
At the same time, nor do I believe that Star News and especially their reporter’s judgement and claim that he is perturbed by the corrosion of Indian culture, was the reason behind the sting operation. It’s all about TRPs honey and nothing else. While former President A P J Abdul Kalam, days before his office term got over, sermonised the Indian media to look within and not sensationalise and not pass Page 3 entertainment as news – the channels have paid little heed. Who cares? Especially when the President is supposed to be a mere rubber stamp. They just make nice ceremonial trophies.
Coming back to the PR game. Bali erred big time, Oh sorry, as he says, his NRI friend, erred big time – in not inviting the media to his private party. The Page 3 culture has yet not caught in with Himachal. But media desperately needs it. There are supplements to be launched and channels to be launched and the audience feeds on and laps up entertainment and not news these days.
A couple of years ago, I asked a very senior journalist in Shimla of a national newspaper – why don’t they get a special supplement for Shimla on the lines of HT City, Delhi Times or Express Newsline. The journalist said, “Yahan ek page bharna mushkil ho jata hai, aur tum supplement ki baat karte ho.”
I saw a lot of scope for Page 3 news in Shimla. It is a happening city and the journos are just being blind to it. Thankfully, Star News has shown them the way. But where would the ads come from? Well market forces take care of themselves. Markets do not evolve. You have to create them. If local cable channels can thrive on local ads why can’t these supplements. Today there is a Cafe Coffee Day, Barista, McDonald’s, Airtel, Aircel, Reliance, Tata Indicom, Idea, BSNL, Dewan Chand Atma Ram, Tomyka, Reebok showroom, etc etc in Shimla.
Now where is Page 3 news? One or the other film shooting is always happening in Shimla or around Shimla, or even Manali/Kullu. A fashion show in some college… A theatre in Kali Bari… Gaiety Theatre is just days away from reopening, parties at the Shimla Club, golf tournaments in Naldehra… some other celebrity is always cooling his/her heels in Shimla. Some festival, flower show, Miss Shimla contest… If there isn’t any news, create it. Throw in an event. This all is Page 3 masala.
I’ll repeat, Bali erred big time – OK sorry again, as he says, his NRI friend who organised the party – erred big time by not inviting the media. He should have hired a PR agency, sent formal invites to the media – requesting them to please come with cameras loaded to the party. The PR agency should throw in names of ministers and officers and industrialists in Baddi who would be attending the party – with a clause to be on the safer side – it would give an opportunity to the media guys to interview them.
Free booze, chicken tikkaas, and kababs, paneer tikkaas, and some Hyderabadi biryani would have taken care of the rest. The media guys would have opened their cameras openly and not discreetly as that of Star News. The scantily/skimpily clad girls would have posed themselves for the camera open-heartedly. The next day they would have been on Page 3. Nobody would have questioned if the girls were call-girls or was there any indecent behaviour. In fact, the captions would have said, “Tourism minister plays naughty with a friend” (for the pat on bottoms of a man); “Industrialist XYZ and friend ABC cosy up to each other” (or was she a call-girl?).
The reporter who cries hoarse today that he does not recognise the family of Bali would have taken pains to even seek their bytes. Bali or his NRI friend did not invite the media to the party and that was their crime. A lesson for other politicians – how to hold parties in future. The poor reporter had been camping in the hotel for three days and he had been buying his own food and drink. How much would have Bali and his NRI friend lost had they invited him? Everything would have been legal. And “naari ke prati nindaniya vyavahaar” would have been “sexy and glamorous”.
I wonder when Himachal would grow up and learn to be diplomatically correct and make friends with the media?
As consumerism grows in Shimla and Himachal, media realises the potential of advertising in the state. It wants the Himachalis to recognise them as the leaders in the TRP ratings so that they can blow the trumpet to the advertisers.
But coming now to the loopholes in the Star News story. I’m not defending Bali or his NRI friends, but as a good reporter should not look at just one side and question everything around, the Star News reporter should have taken all aspects in consideration. Bali is right in questioning that the reporter has shown just one side of the story. The channel has labelled the girls as call-girls. Has anybody given a thought to this branding of girls/women as call-girls. All girls/women present there have been painted with one-stroke as call-girls. It’s in fact more a naari ka apmaan by labelling them all without questioning them. Star News did not show their comments or bother to take their comments. Did the channel or the reporter question them? I’ll take it point wise:
— Yes, the video showed some girls around skimpily dressed, but the reporter did not mention how did he come to the conclusion that they were call girls. There are more skimpily girls clad in discos in Delhi and elsewhere. There were no comments from the girls. It was the reporter’s claim and not the girls’ that they were brought in from Delhi and were paid Rs 50,000. Who told the reporter that the girls were brought from Delhi and how much money was paid to whom? This should have been a chain. In fact the call-girl gang itself should have been busted.
— Bali asked the reporter, why he did not show his family – his wife, his daughter and son-in-law? The reporter answered that he does not know his family. One, it cannot be that he does not know his family. Two, was it not the reporter’s job to find out who all were there, while he took care to find out which all officers, bureaucrats and industrialists were present there. He in fact knew that the girls dancing around were call-girls; and he knew that where they had come from and how much they had been paid. He in fact knew that last year they were paid Rs 35,000 and this year Rs 50,000.
The best answer the reporter could have given was that – his (Bali’s) family was not there and he did not see any of his family members. Instead, the reporter chose to say that he does not know and recognise Bali’s family members. But as I said earlier, the reporter would have, had the organisers of the party invited the media. But as he had gate-crashed the party and was under stealth, he could not mingle out openly.
Had the reporter been invited formally, Star News would have shown the party on CITY 60 (10:30 PM, Mon-Fri). Go to Star News’ website it tells you about the programme, CITY 60 – “Hosted by Radhika Chaturvedi, This popular bulletin is the big city take on famous people, fashion, crime, civic life and the general buzz on what drives India’s cities in the day and in the night! This city-focused primetime news bulletin provides comprehensive coverage of the day’s news from Mumbai, Delhi and other major cities in India delving into the quality of life associated with these cities and issues of civic amenities, public transportation, famous events and hip parties. Watch it to catch a glimpse of life in the city’s fast lane.”
Bali and his friends just missed being on CITY 60. So please next time invite the reporter and avail the chance of being on CITY 60.
— The report on Star News did not reveal the names of bureaucrats and industrialists, except that “this is a senior bureaucrat and this is an industrialist from Baddi.” The anchor said that they did not want to malign and drag anybody’s name just like that – that’s why they are not revealing the names. They could afford to malign Bali’s name as he was a “public figure”. Does not the rule apply to government officials? Aren’t they equally guilty as Bali then for indulging in indecent behaviour? Why should just Bali be crucified if he’s done something indecent?
— Bali was shown patting the bottoms of ‘man’ jokingly and the anchor called it an indecent behaviour. My argument against is – One, he did not hit the bottoms of a woman. Two, we all do in jest with close friends (obviously of the same sex).
— The reporter said, “Ek Bharatiya hone ke naate, main iss tarah naari ke prati vyavahaar nahin dekh sakta“. The anchor fumed, in fact lost his cool and as chiding a child said, “Bhai (Bali) sahab…” Without taking comments of the girls, the reporter and the anchor branded all the girls present there as call-girls and did a graver apmaan of the Bharatiya naari. I’ve seen an ex-Tehelka senior guy in Press Club in Delhi – after getting tipsy – use Ma and Behan gaalis in front of women colleagues. Women colleagues are just cool about it. Just pay a visit to a Press Club one evening and see how these hypocritical pressmen behave. (By the way I’m also a journalist, and sad to say that).
— The report said — Shimla, Kangra mein light and cable kaat dee gayi hai. While I tried to enquire around, some did complain about electricity failure while others denied it. While some others said, “Routine hai. Dus/pandrah minute ke liye toh jaati rehti hai kahbhi kabhi.” It is possible that it was deliberately cut and it is also very much possible that it was a routine failure. But Star News was hell-bent on making us believe that it was a deliberate act.
— While the reporter said that it was a two hours video, they just kept repeating a five minute clip. The reason Star News gives – “Aage aur bhee hai, jo itna sharmnaak hai ki hum family channel pe dikha nahin sakte“.
But credence should be given to Bali to come on record and debate it out. He could have chosen to not speak at all, which ministers do in Delhi or elsewhere. Instead Bali chose to be on the phone line for hours together. Credence should also be given to the state Chief Minister, Virbhadra Singh to have come up on television.
If the matter is subjudice, let’s wait for the verdict. If Bali is proven guilty, we should be happy for the reporter and Star News. However, if the report is not authentic, it would be a sad day for my ilk – the journalists and the media. For cheap TRPs, we can be manipulative and stoop to any levels. Star News enjoys a healthy channel share – only after Aaj Tak and Zee News in Himachal. May be it’s the war to be at No 1. Who knows!
But I’ll just conclude by saying that hope the reporter was right. Else it’ll be sad for all of us that Himachal, which had been untouched by this TRP war, has too caught up. More so, as we at HimVani intend to have stakes in the media field. And we hope to play it with scruples and not as a mere game.
I’ve tried not to defend Bali or Congressmen, but tried to defend the foundation and scruples that form the foundation of any media house.