Amit Paranjape’s Blog

Television News, Coverage of Mumbai Terror Attacks: A Distorted Reality

Posted in Current Affairs by Amit Paranjape on December 26, 2008

I have written earlier about Television News in general and my strong belief, how they are driving the common man ‘dumb’ by feeding exaggerated, hyped, often erroneous and sensationalism filled news to the consuming public. Last month’s coverage of the Mumbai Terror Attacks just further validated the point. The fact that it took such a serious and sad occasion to bring many others to question this media in India is worth pondering by itself. But, better late than never, I guess!

 

Instead of enumerating what all things the Television Media got wrong, let’s focus on the simpler part – what they got right, if anything at all! For starters, we have to give them some credit for focusing and deploying enough resources on the ground…the caliber of which, we will discuss at a later point. But that’s about it…Everything else ranged from a farce to a tragedy…and from blatant errors, to actions that were jeopardizing the rescue mission itself.

 

I am not going to pick on any one channel; I think more or less all of them were in the same league. Before diving into some of the specifics, let’s take a look at the general theme of the presentation. Somehow, these channels think that this real world tragedy is a Hollywood/Bollywood thriller movie. There is a stark music score in the background. ‘Somber’?….it is definitely not. Certain images are repeated over and over for maximum impact; and the worse part – certain clips are played in slow motion, back to back – leading one to believe that the particular scene dragged on for a much longer time, than its actual duration. This ‘trick’ is repeated very often by the news media here.

 

Now let’s look at the presenter. These folks seem to be under the impression that they are the center of the attraction. I fully understand that covering live news; that too of a very serious and tragic situation is extremely difficult. But I sincerely disapprove of people who try to overcome this difficulty by ‘steamrolling’ ahead with whatever they know/they think they know. There was a journalist who kept repeating during the operations about how a Special Forces team was getting ready to fire a RPG. He kept repeating this fact over and over, when it was amply clear that his own camera was showing a sharp shooter, with a special sight rifle. Now, what does it take to differentiate a rifle from a RPG??

 

Enough has already been written about the ‘TRP’ ratings driven ultra competitiveness between these channels. Hence suffice to say, any piece that was covered in the days following the end of the crisis was always ‘Exclusive’. This same desire also got some of these channels to compromise on the mission secrecy of the Special Forces. There ‘blow by blow’ reporting of the Special Forces movement stopped only after a direct request/order from senior military leadership.

 

The other sad aspect of the Indian society – ‘Indiscipline’, which transcends into a TV Reporter’s behavior, was also on ample display during this coverage. (We also see this every time an important event is getting coverage…). Forget the gravity of the situation of a tense security operation; or the serious and solemn funeral of a slain police officer – these reporters will literally climb over each other, while leading with their microphones and hound the person they are trying to get to. There is not even a hint of basic human decency here. And everyone’s screaming their questions all at the same time! Even an out of order High School class would seem much better behaved in comparison. When these same reporters show up in a press conference room, the shouting persists, but a new element of musical cacophony in the form of mobile phones ringers is added to the mix. I guess someone forgot to tell them about the ‘Silent’ mode on their handsets.

 

The list can go on further, but I think you get the overall idea. I remember back in the early 1990s, how as a harsh critic of the state controlled ‘Doordarshan’ News Channel, I used to long for the day when privately operated News Channels could be operational in India . However, it’s extremely ironic that today I (and probably many others) would lean towards Doordarshan to get somewhat realistic and balanced news; even when its quality hasn’t shown much improvement in the past 2 decades! Frankly, the best (but the most difficult…) way of getting a true and realistic picture, is to rely on multiple media streams – TV, Published Media, Newspapers and Blogs. One then needs to discount the ‘hype’, correct & compensate for errors, compare & contrast to do a sanity & reality check, and maybe then…one has any hope of getting some what closer to the true picture! In other words, we would need every individual to take-over the job of a top notch editor!

 

 

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10 Responses

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  1. Mandar Vaze said, on December 26, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Amit,
    Overall I agree with your points.
    Just to provide the “other side” of story, readers should refer to this article by Barkha Dutt

    http://www.ndtv.com/convergence/ndtv/mumbaiterrorstrike/Story.aspx?ID=COLEN20080075194&type=opinion

  2. […] Vote Television News, Coverage of Mumbai Terror Attacks: A Distorted Reality […]

  3. Bharat Phatak said, on December 27, 2008 at 11:11 am

    Dear Amit,

    I agree with your views. We as a society can choose to be more responsible.

    1,000 children die of diarrhea every day in India. Our TV channels will spend 4 days ( & nights) tracking the story of a kid which has fallen in a tube well. Who is to blame? Those who want to show or those who want to see?

    Bharat Phatak

  4. Amit Paranjape said, on December 27, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    Bharat,

    Thanks for your feedback.

    On the incident involving boy falling in the well…I agree 100%. This was the big story sometime back around the time I had just returned to India. I was shocked to see what was going on..in a country of 1B people, that is what was taking center stage!!

    Initially I thought this was just a copy (and hence just as bad) as the coverage in the US – There, similar stray events can at times catch massive coverage…

    But on having followed Indian media for the past 1.5 years, I can say that what we have here on Indian TV is much much worse! Everything from the ‘sensationalization’ of the most mundane news to over commercialization. I don’t have the exact statistics, but the time for commercials on Indian TV (including News) is definitely higher than that of the US – that bastion of capitalism and commercialism.

    The height was yesterday when I saw a news channel show news briefs with a background score of a Mobile Operator commercial! So much for ‘unbiased’ news!

    Amit

  5. atul said, on December 27, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    It might be interesting to distinguish between the performance of individual news channels when it comes to this. I feel some channels may be particularly worse than others, but I agree that in general the standard is quite low.

    It’s only if we viewers start gravitating to good content and not watch any channel just because it’s there, that the situation can improve.

  6. Manisha said, on December 28, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    Very true !

    The reporter in any media should be impartial narrator of the incident. However TV reporters are surprisingly very opinioned and are ‘brave’ enough to share their feelings on the air.
    Their choice of words and the manner of presentation is by and large very questionable.

    Also as you said, ‘Doordarshan’ is truly the best choice when you need to find out real and current news.

    Amongst other news channels, it is quite a task to find one which does not have misleading headlines, stale video clips and a less hyper anchor who has his/her volume in control.

  7. Unmesh Mayekar said, on December 30, 2008 at 11:37 am

    Switching channels is always an option but there are no good “options”. What I would love to see is the birth of public supported TV networks on the lines of PBS (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_Broadcasting_Service, http://www.pbs.org/). The principle is to raise funds from the public to provide unbiased content that is in the interests of the public at large. My older son grew up watching PBSKids (http://pbskids.org/) and I would find myself glued to “Charlie Rose”, musicals, cooking-shows, and ofcourse the “News Hour with Jim Lehrer” (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/).

    On similar lines, I sorely miss NPR which stands for National Public Radio (http://www.npr.org/). There is no quality radio channel as well – and I can surely use one on my not so infrequent driving trips to Mumbai🙂

    My question is – what would it take to launch these in India? Can we initiate the first step?

  8. Amit Paranjape said, on December 30, 2008 at 5:30 pm

    Manisha, Atul,

    Thanks for your comments. Agree with your views.

    Unmesh,

    Yes, I too really miss PBS and NPR. I do listen to NPR once in a while on WorldSpace satellite radio. However, that’s a moot point – since we really need something like that in the Indian context.

    I have no idea regarding / answer to your question regarding ‘what would it take to launch these in India’!

    One only hopes that blogging and other grass-roots level efforts (one example could be university radio…) gradually take shape.

    Thanks
    Amit

  9. Bharat Phatak said, on January 2, 2009 at 10:48 am

    Film & Television Institute of India (FTII) had recently launched a radio channel. May be you can inspire some of the people there.

  10. Nilesh Sane said, on January 2, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Given that on “off” days, these channels resort to news from existing TV serials, is enough to judge the credibility (if any) of these so called Media Giants. I have often asked my self, if we ever will be in a position to know the truth, because it so often is white washed before being fed to the public. The irrelevance of the story decides how factual it really is; if the story has a chance of spiraling into a political fiasco one can be sure that what we are seeing is a well “massaged” version of the real deal. The only reason why I watch the TV news is because it amuses me.
    Happy New Year to All BTW🙂


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