Shyam G. Menon
Mumbai, Feb. 28
While the Finance Minister has only partially imposed service tax on the media, the waning centrality of his annual budget should spell concern for the growing army of journalists tracking the event.
Over time, the nationwide monitoring of the telecast, has become a circus, predictable on proceedings, reactions and now increasingly, to the happiness of a few in industry, predictable on the budget as well. The show is arguably a decade-and-a-half-old, as old as reforms (itself no gawky teenager any more) and older as an example of embedded media than the television troops of the Iraq invasion.
In the initial years, it was well attended and well debated. Important corporate leaders came, sat through the telecast and provided comments at the end. It was Indian industry at close quarters, the staged nature of the event lost in the eagerness to see the heavyweights in person. That was a good decade ago.
In the ensuing years, as the media multiplied and corporate faces became household names, the annual ritual of budget viewing lost its glamour. First, likely prey to their own vanity, the biggest names cocooned themselves in television studios, weakening to that extent the crowd at viewings organised by business chambers. Then that crowd splintered, the industry leaders spoke to cameras under arc lights while print scribes took notes in the dark.
Later subject and reporter got bored, quite likely bored of themselves. The subject evaded comment or if he did, uttered predictable, jaded lines. So there was always a `thrust in infrastructure' and `view on agriculture,' though to its credit corporate India didn't totally betray its disenchantment with the routine.
Today, a senior company official searched long for words, cut the drift and quipped, "Why do you ask me? You know the usual things anyway.'' Elsewhere, actors persevered. At the Taj Mahal hotel, PR executives whisked off company officials from one television shoot to the next.
A banker moving from one comment on camera to another, captured the commodity feel of the day when he asked after a shoot, "Where do I go from here?'' With four halls on that floor done up as TV studios, he really needed advice.
Budget viewing will be there next year. As will be, that banker. Like every FM's war on smoking, some habits in corporate India, don't die.