Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ssssh...it's Private!!

Deep in my heart lives a desire to watch birthday celebrations, baby shower, mundan, naamkaran ceremonies and marriage anniversary celebrations of hollywood's leading ladies & men live on BBC News, CNN, CBS News & FOX News channels and that too for the whole day! And I know that I'm going to leave this world without having this desire fulfilled. How sad!

In contrast, the Indian TV news channels worked themselves up into a lather to bring us the 70th birthday celebrations of Amitabh Bachchan live into our bedrooms. Right from a day before the birthday we were drenched in promos reminding us to join Big B's birthday on the respective channels. You couldn't escape this whole tamasha even if you wanted to for the Big B was omnipresent.

I'm surprised how Sr. Bachchan allowed this media intrusion into something that should have been a totally private affair. For he is the same fellow who had shunned media when it was poking its nose into his alleged affairs with actress Rekha.
Yesteryears film actress Shilpa Shetty's pregnancy too got wide media coverage including who designed the clothes she wore during the baby shower ceremony and what not. The nation was kept updated right till the baby was delivered. Ditto with Aishwarya Rai's pregnancy and motherhood. And wait for a repeat on Saif & Kareena's wedding day. I bet our newshounds would follow them till they enter the airport on their way to their formal honeymoon destination Some channels may even show us the airborne flight claiming that `this is the flight in which Saifeena have taken off for so & so place...' followed by maybe a soundbyte of the porter who loaded their suitcases onto the plane. He may be asked questions like -`Were they looking happy?'; `Did you see them holding each other's hand while walking?' etc.

Of course, unlike their American & European counterparts, Indian journalists' budgets don't allow them to travel abroad and book rooms in the same hotels and continue chasing the couple and lay their eyes, ears and hands on whatever they can. So sadly the coverage ends there. 
 
As long as the media covergae is favourable, media exposure is welcomed by everyone. In fact, most celebs and politicians hire PR agencies who bribe the presswallahs in so many ways to get free coverage for their clients. Media exposure provides the vital oxygen called publicity which in turn helps boost their demand and consequently their market price. For all you know, the wide coverage, specially on TV might even be bringing sponsorship for the event in the form of booze & food supply. We know very well how liquor companies, barred from direct advertising, use such parties to publicize their brands by getting into a deal with the organizers.

But when the same media starts sniffing out extra-marital affairs, stories of nose, chin, boob jobs etc., our celebs lose no time in crying hoarse. The media suddenly turns a villain, a monster that needs to be exorcised. Invasion of Privacy!!! They scream vilifying the press indignantly. 
 
Now the question that needs to be answered is – How does a birthday, engagement ceremony or anniversary celebration become a public affair and by the same yardstick how does a romantic outing or extra marital affair become a private affair? It is common knowledge that birth is an outcome of a strictly private act between two individuals of the opposite sex. And so is the delivery of a baby which happens within closed confines of a home or hospital except for the poor & the dispossesed who are forced to deliver babies on railway platforms, roadside and corridors of govt. hospitals. Ditto for marriage and childbirth which again fall in the private domain with only a select few getting invited.

Well, the truth is that while media may still be able to live without celebrities, the reverse is just not possible. Celebrityhood & stardom thrive on visibility in the media. The more the merrier! And since relationships by definition are 2-way, both make use of each other to sell. Of course celebs ideally look for a one-way street wherein they get to use the media as and in the manner that best suits their interests. Life doesn't work that way my dear celebrity!

Then come the politicians & bureaucrats who are nowadays working overtime to castrate the bull called RTI to their privacy. The prime minister wants the RTI Act to deal with privacy issues as well.

Prime Minister sir, what people of the political class and the bureaucrats do privately is something that your intelligence sleuths must be knowing jolly well. Shady deals are cut outside of public purview; money doesn't exchange hands through official records and the `colorful' life that some of our politicians & bureaucrats live post office hours can even make famous bollywood villains like Ajit, Ranjeet & Shakti Kapoors feel jealous and inferior. And all this anyway falls beyond the purview of RTI. And when we got to have a look at the rainbow colored life of Narayan Dutt Tiwari, it wasn't through the RTI keyhole. The videos were handed over to the press by the affected party after a deal went sour. The RTI Act can only help ordinary mortals, the mango people, to get info on public servant's personal biodata, known sources of income, declared assets, attendance, transfers & posting records and pretty harmless stuff of similar nature. I am trying hard to imagine the kind of personal info one can seek under RTI that would violate a public servant's privacy. And I'd surely file an application seeking such `deeply personal' info before your proposal comes into effect! 
 
Many years back, a newspaper had printed a photo of Shankar Dayal Sharma, the then President of India, showing him tripping & about to fall on the ground during a ceremony at Raj Ghat (or was it Shakti Sthal?). The president's office had expressed its displeasure at publishing this photo. Sitting in the newsroom, I and my colleagues were debating the correctness of the decision to publish that particular photo and the right of Rashtrapati Bhavan in conveying its unhappiness. I believed then as I believe now that publishing such pictures is alright and fits perfectly into the definition of `news'. Afterall it was not a private moment as this happened to a public figure, at a public place and on a public occassion! You can differ with someone's editorial perspective but cannot question his freedom or the right to do it. Remember reports of U.S. president George W. Bush choking on a pretzel & fainting inside the White House! By widely reporting this incident, did the American media intrude into Bush's privacy?
Birthday celebrations of the President, Prime Minister & other political figures are reported every year without any objection from the concerned persons. On the contrary, invites & press releases are sent for the press to attend and report. The ones who report become the `good boys' in the govt.'s eyes. The day these people start treating these personal occasions as strictly private; the day they would stop using public money for these clebrations is the day they'll have the moral right to fault the media for intruding into their private lives.

When a minister, MP or MLA throws an iftaar party, it is (s)he who purposely invites the media for coverage of the event – to show off that he has arrived; to display his well heeled connections and to impress the muslim community that (s)he is secular etc. If using private, `made for media' parties for political growth is alright then what is wrong if the same press reports about these fellows misusing their official positions as public servants to trade in immoral favours? 
 
Come on celebs, politicians and bureaucrats! The press is not your private slave who can be commanded as per your whims & fancies. You alone cannot choose when and what to feed the press and the manner in which it should be reported. If you have the right to live off the glory bestowed by the media, the media too has the right to feed off your life. However tame and tameable, the `press' has a mind of its own too!!