News channels make entertainment statement

And so the great Indian election season has come to a close with results that will have shocked even the most ardent Congress supporter.

Election results apart, the last two months have also been polling season on the news channels and each one has been at it with a vengeance. This opinion poll and that exit poll and what have you poll threw up contrary results that swung this way and that like a political weathervane in the thick of a storm. Indeed what stuck out like a sore thumb was that all the polls had one thing in common: they were all way off the mark in terms of the final outcome.

And considering that all the poll pundits got egg in their faces in last year's assembly elections to the four states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, New Delhi and Chattisgarh, it does say something about the value of such admittedly mammoth and complex exercises.

The situation as it stands is that Prannoy Roy's NDTV has come out of all the hustings hustle bustle with the most to crow about. Not because it got it right but it got it less wrong than its rivals. Admittedly though, there is an area where it can certainly claim credit. And that is in that it was able to get a feel of the way the political winds were blowing better than any other news channel. Did the oodles of experience he has gained covering at least four elections as a psephologist-commentator help him get it more right than the others? Probably.

And what has the whole experience been like for the viewer? One thing they did not get was clarity as to the outcome of what is without doubt a landmark election exercise. But there is no denying the whole exercise had huge entertainment value. There was suspense, drama, emotions, action. All the ingredients that go into making a great story. And the news channels certainly told it well. Though they did stretch the truth somewhat in the telling.

And even as the news channels wind down from what has been a heady two months (the news focus baton changed hands from the cricket field to the political arena), has been thoroughly engrossed throughout. Though there have been times when the exercise verged on the silly, all-in-all it did point to one fact - that when it comes to the news business, Indians can take on the best.

The clutch of news channels fared well in their election debut. A point that came through was that despite the myriad news channels all reporting on essentially the same things, there were enough differentiators in their individual approaches to preclude complaints of clutter and conformity. All a far cry from the charge levelled at the Hindi entertainment channels this time last year (not so much now it must be admitted) that they were all dishing out similarly undistinguished fare.

There were innovative satirical ways of making the elections less dull fare going by the efforts of NDTV's Gustakhi Maaf and Double Take, Star News' No 1 political Shekar Suman hosted spoof Poll Kholl and Sahara TV's Dharti Pakad. A touch of what has been done with cricket was attempted on news television with little animated political cartoons jumping around aping the somewhat farcical mannerisms of the netas. The keyline of these efforts being to make political television journalism fun, alive and ever changing.

The conclusion: Exit and opinion polls should carry a statutory warning: "Willing suspension of disbelief beneficial to health when viewing exit/opinion polls."

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