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