Amit Paranjape’s Blog

Improving ISRO’s Outreach Programs – What can be learned from NASA

Posted in Current Affairs, Science & Technology by Amit Paranjape on October 11, 2011

I recently wrote an article on The Broad Mind blog: “Improving ISRO’s Outreach Programs” . This article discusses various steps that ISRO could learn from NASA in terms of its outreach programs. To access the article, click on the above link or click here: http://broadmind.nationalinterest.in/2011/09/improving-isro%E2%80%99s-outreach-programs/

 

The Broad Mind blog covers opinions from the Takshashila community. For details about the Takshashila Foundation, click here: http://takshashila.org.in/about/

 

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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Is TV News Making Us Dumb?

Posted in Current Affairs by Amit Paranjape on November 1, 2008

How is the modern TV news affecting the consumer today?

 

In my previous article on “The Illiterate 21st Century Consumer”, I have attributed some of the causes, to the role that media plays today. I thought of writing this article primarily targeted towards TV audiences in India. But as I started writing it, I realized that this is equally applicable to the US TV audiences as well. In fact, since US leads the world in media and entertainment, all the good and bad trends including the ones in Television News originate from here! Hence I modified my article a little so that it can address TV News audiences not only in India, but the US as well, and possibly many other countries.

 

 

“Breaking News”!!! Screams a TV channel. Worried, I try to focus my attention towards the TV, but somehow don’t comprehend what’s going on. I switch channels…but still the same. It takes me a few minutes to figure what’s going on. Apparently, a cat has fallen into a small ditch and is unable to get out…it is screaming loudly, and the vast armies of TV reporters with their uplink vans, with nothing better to cover in this otherwise mundane world, are zeroing in on the action! An anchor passionately discusses her love for cats, and how in such a great country of ours, we cannot get a cat out of her misery! Many bystanders have already dialed the emergency number…Soon the brave first responders show up on the screen and begin what apparently seems like a straight forward rescue; but what a channel dubs as ‘a grave and risky mission’. Success is achieved in a few minutes, and the apparently unperturbed feline creature is united with her overjoyed owner. The action over, the reporters fade away in search of their next big scoop. Some ‘analytical’ ones continue with the story and ask ‘tough’ questions – how the cat got there in the first place? Who is to be blamed?…and on and on.

 

Had enough of the story?! Me too! Unfortunately, this is not that far from reality! Moreover, this same story could have easily played out in the richest country in the world – USA, or the largest democracy in the world – India, or in many other countries.

 

All over the world, commercial media is out there to get into action for getting the viewers’ eyeballs. Ratings are everything. A new slogan of this brave new media world could go something like “Any news is good to cover, as long as it can grab your attention”. Forget things like veracity, priority, credibility, authenticity, journalistic standards, etc. Those are things of the past. When legendary newspapers have made the transition from being the most respected news sources for decades, to being the tabloids with the most circulations (readers in India will know which specific newspaper I am talking about), why should the TV channels fall behind? To their credit, they haven’t! They have caught up well in the past decade. Perfectly good (and thus boring) news channels have become the sensational sources of bits of ‘news’. And as if the news items themselves were not enough, they are using modern graphic technology to great effect – often rivaling MTV music videos. Dull and boring news anchors have given way to glamorous celebrities.

 

On a more serious note – I thought this was just one big sad joke until recently, when I realized the impact of all this. People (more appropriately, the ‘21st century illiterates’) were actually believing this stuff! An ever increasing number were living in this cocoon of the new ‘news world’.

 

A sad case happened recently where incessant breaking news coverage about some apparent ‘doomsday’ event worried a teenager so much, he actually attempted a suicide. It is one thing to feed junk news to the consumer; but now it has gotten to the point of feeding blatantly wrong pieces of information!

 

Unlike in the past when newspapers were the primary news source, today more people (especially in developing countries like India, where internet coverage is still limited) are relying on TV for their daily information feed. Unlike a newspaper, a TV news channel is unfortunately a ‘single threaded’ source (to use a technical analogy!). A newspaper can devote large real estate to the top news, and yet the user can skip it and go to the following pages/sections if he wishes. With the news channel, you are stuck with the ‘story of the day’ however irrelevant it might be. Having multiple channels doesn’t help, since all get caught in the same web.

The story of day or the breaking news might end up occupying the better part of the news hour on many days. As a result, the viewer doesn’t get exposure to any of the real news. Worse, disproportionate importance is given to something that is utterly irrelevant in many cases. In this current financial crisis, where principles of capitalism itself are being questioned, may be someone should extend those same questions to journalism. Why is it today, that ‘boring’ news services such as India’s government run ‘Doordarshan’, UK’s BBC or NPR in USA are more dependable than other networks that have much higher budgets and reach? What is common amongst all these three networks? But then, that could be a topic of a separate article.

 

I have come to conclusion that TV News are actually making the viewers dumb. Not that this is any great finding! I am sure that some of you, who still have their ‘information sanity’ with them after facing the barrage of the current stuff, would have come to the same conclusion. But how do we get this message out? Clearly, the media won’t showcase the reality…it goes against their business interests. I guess someone should create a sensational news item around this…may be a very intelligent man (say a PhD in Quantum Physics!) who was forced to watch the modern TV news by his family, wakes up one day, and has great difficulty with 1st grade mathematics! How did this happen?? Surely, this will be one exciting ‘Breaking News’ all over the TV channels!

 

[To Be Continued…]

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