by Sanjay Pugalia
A Rs 35 lakh investment in refurbishing toilets in the Planning Commission has got a section of the media into a loo-natic frenzy. Not only did some TV channels make it the story of the day, but editors made a big deal of the issue.
This is worrisome. Especially when one considers the fact that many channels have been claiming they are putting their house in order by not giving peripheral news pride of place through sensationalism or regressive journalism.
The loo-fixation on Wednesday marks a new low after the media’s belated realisation that it needs to grow up and stay away from the unintelligent stuff it sometimes seems obsessed with. This is, of course, not a comment on the entire media, but a section of it.
The moot point is: why this slide back into pointless sensationalism?
While I suspect that there are some people in Delhi who search for opportunities to hit out at Montek Singh Ahluwalia, in this case it was an RTI activist who got this information and duly shared it with the media. No one can blame him, for it is his mission and he was right to approach the media with his cause, but was the loo investment the prime story of the day?
On a day when a near defunct government calls a meeting to be presided over by the prime minister, was Montek’s loo the high point? The PM’s meeting was not a story for the business media alone, but the general channels were more mesmerised by its toilet fetish.
But see the context. The general refrain in sections of the media has been that the government is not functioning, people are angry, presidential elections are approaching, and Sonia Gandhi has asked the Manmohan Singh government to ignore allies and take hard decisions. But due to the presidential poll, no action will be taken for a while. The big questions asked have been: how many EGoMs do we need to get policy moving? How many project monitoring mechanisms? What is Pranab-babu’s future? What’s Rahul Gandhi upto, what is Sonia thinking?
In recent days, the 5.3 percent GDP number became the talking point for everyone – for suddenly the economic crisis was brought home to everybody.
So when the PM calls a meeting of all key infrastructure ministries, and when there is no other news story happening, why didn’t the general news media think the PMO’s initiative was worth some reportage? No one asked why the PMO called the meeting, and whether the PM was getting assertive once more. Is everything beginning to happen because Sonia Gandhi has asked the government to get its act together?
But the loo investment took centre-stage, because it was important to show that the government’s austerity was a sham, and could be conclusively disproved through this one anecdotal story. Moreover, who knows, maybe some media editors thought they shouldn’t turn away a story that landed so easily on their desks, without work.
Even to prove austerity a sham, there were enough events happening around Delhi to show up the government. Commerce Minister Anand Sharma held his Board of Trade meeting in a big Delhi hotel. The next day, a press conference in Mumbai again happened in a five-star hotel and the minister stayed overnight in yet another hotel.
But that’s not the point. We cannot take the use of five-star hotels as the only test of a government’s sincerity on austerity. But surely there are better stories to attempt in this area?
On a day when the focus should have been on a strangely structured, four-pillared, multiple-layered, UPA-Congress entity with a fudged sense of accountability, a section of the media took an extended loo-break.
Sanjay Pugalia is Editor-in-Chief, CNBC Awaaz