Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Mumbai attacks and the mindless Media!

The insensitivity of the Media was too glaring in their coverage of the Mumbai attacks.
The following write-up by Jayathi Gosh raises the questions -
when will the media realize its detestable over-reach?
and who will bell the cat?

Of particular instances, I wish to state the way Burkha Dutt queried Shantanu, the husband of fellow  journalist Sabina who was missing, asking about his feelings and and how he is going to tell it to his kids. Is this the thing that the nation is waiting to hear? Anyone will know how traumatic it is to have a dear one trapped inside the Taj at that time and not hearing anything from her. Shantanu was speechless for sometime, unable to answer this and ultimately refused to answer this.Is this the way interviewing must happen?

It was also strange to see Burkha hurrying to move away from that young citizen who happened to be a Muslim by birth and speaking against Terror. Anyone who watched that person would certainly salute him for not mincing any word to denounce terror - even if it be done by a Muslim. It was when he started telling that no muslim would accept it and that Koran is telling that such a person will be put into hell for billions of years that Burkha grew restless and rushed out of him. I must say she missed a good chance of making the world hear him. The muslim brethren must be heard. The average muslim is a well meaning person and in no way a lesser citizen in his patriotic fervour. It is the political parties which want to treat him differently. It is a pity that Burkha and her media house think like the nasty politician.



Who will hold up a mirror to the media?

Jayati Ghosh


THEY SAY the media holds up a mirror to society. If so, then this must be most true of the electronic media which, unlike the print media, is so instantaneous in their response and presentation that there is no time for sober consideration and adjustment. But that also means that many weaknesses of our society may well be not just reflected in but even reinforced and sometimes worsened by the media. This thought came while watching television coverage of the horrifying terrorist attacks in Mumbai last week.

There is no point repeating all the clichés. In any case, even the commonly used words — shock, fury, anguish, anxiety — do not suffice to describe all the emotions that most of us have been through while watching the horrific events in Mumbai. But while people across the country were glued to television sets to find out what was happening as the grim and tragic drama unfolded, the role of newscasters inevitably also came under scrutiny. And sadly, the electronic media too has been found wanting on this occasion.

The most shocking aspect may have been the fact that so many news channels persisted in the urge to be sensational and to come with scoops over other channels, over the most elementary sense of responsibility in coverage. It should be obvious to the meanest intelligence that if the enemy — in this case a handful of highly-armed terrorists — is provided with any information during an encounter, it is bound to give them an advantage and make the task of the authorities much more difficult. This is clearly even more the case in prolonged operations in urban locations when only the official side is hampered by the need to prevent civilian casualties.

This means that those covering such actions must be particularly careful not to provide any information that could be relayed back to terrorists and provide them with any advantage. Yet, during the extremely sensitive and fraught military-style operations in the three Mumbai locations, competitive journalism obviously trumped such considerations, even though it was suspected that the terrorists had satellite phones and could, therefore, access and use information that was being relayed on television.

At least one television channel openly bragged about the special information it had obtained from members of the forces brought in for the rescue operation. Some provided detailed descriptions of the ongoing anti-terror operations, down to details such as which rooms and which floors of specific hotels the National Security Guard commandos would enter. Most of the channels kept their cameras directed at the areas identified as "trouble spots" or areas where the militants were suspected to be hiding. And every time there was some movement on the part of the commandos, or even the police outside, the newspersons would be rushing to train their cameras on such movement and speculate on what it was for. We can only guess how much help this provided to the militants. But the pro longed nature of the operations in all three locations suggests that such media hyperactivity certainly could not have helped the brave men who were risking their lives in a very complex and difficult operation against deadly enemies.

On several occasions, jostling and confusion among the crowd of assembled journalists created such commotion that police had to step in to control them. At times when they were asked to step back behind cordons for their own protection as the possibility of crossfire grew, or to allow the military action to proceed, there was resistance and several tried to sneak back when they thought they could get away with it.

And then, once again because of the continuous presence of the cameras, we were treated to the sorry spectacle of complete lack of sensitivity of the TV journalists when they rushed to surround and interrogate the exhausted and traumatised survivors as they were brought out from the hotel buildings. Even when they begged for restraint and respect, microphones kept getting shoved in front of their faces and questions poured down on them, until finally they could manage to push their way through the melee of journalists into waiting vehicles. Those who had suffered personal tragedy, losing family members or close friends and themselves still in shock, were not spared media scrutiny as the cameras panned in on their tears and watched their agony.

Is this the sign of media gone crazy, an explosion of competitive journalism that is so obsessed with sensationalism and being the first or the most able to come out with certain news that it has lost sight of essential humanity? Or is it that we as a society are now so degraded that even something as ghastly, tragic and horrifying as these incidents of terror and their awful personal aftermath for the victims can be treated like a TV reality show?

It is common in such situations to call for introspection. But maybe introspection is no longer enough, especially if there is no subsequent change in behaviour. Since the prolonged encounters finally ended, we have had to suffer the main presenters, especially on the English language channels, hold forth pompously and at length on the need to change many things in polity, society and the nature of governance. "Enough is enough!" they announced, and said that citizens would not tolerate any more.

Unfortunately, none of them recognised any problems with the media's own behaviour, or acknowledged that there was any need to change. Is it possible for society to now hold up a mirror for the media?

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