Challenging the Media

In the light of the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, a lot of questions are being raised; not only in terms of the security of the nation, but also in terms of the media response to it. Of course, we all will agree that there was no lack of it. People would also agree that something of this magnitude cannot be under-covered by the media either. Either way, the media is criticized. So is it really possible for us to curb the media and thereby, curb the ‘freedom of the press’?

‘Freedom of the press’, that pure and noble concept that has helped us win many a war and our independence. Is that really that pure and noble that it needs to be preserved? I think not. A lot of rubbish has been passed on as news, thanks to the freedom of the press. I am particularly miffed with the electronic media. They are the most powerful media today and yet, so irresponsible in their dealings with news.

Case in point; the coverage of the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai. First of all, how could the television channels have broadcast the NSG commandos landing on the roof of the building? Don’t they already know that this is a highly critical and secretive mission and that it is not to be broadcasted without prior permission?

It’s not just that, this same news channel, started by someone who is considered to be the best in the country (a highly respected gentleman affiliated with a highly respected news channel) was extremely callous about the whole coverage. They never bothered to verify facts before declaring it to be ‘breaking news’. They talked about firing happening in Borivali, a place far away from the area which was under siege.

This same channel also showed a video taken by an Italian journalist and his Indian friend, who had managed to break the security for the Taj and had recorded a video of the NSG commandos in action. How they managed a backdoor entry into the Taj during the rescue operations is an altogether different issue. But the channel’s decision to show it as a ‘Citizen Journalism’ contribution and not report it is what is really shocking about it. How could they have been so careless as to have shown that video and call it an ‘exclusive’?

Most of the breaking news headlines were not even confirmed reports. And then they accused the general public of rumour mongering.

If all of this wasn’t enough, they didn’t even leave the victims. The chef of the Wasabi restaurant of the Taj had just managed to come out of the hotel alive and unscathed, when the media surrounded him and bombarded him with questions about the situation inside. You could clearly see he was not fluent in English and that he was not in a mood to answer questions. But he was still forced to answer them as he had been surrounded by the media. The more he answered, the more he was asked about the number of terrorists, the guests and the overall situation. And as a grand finale, a journalist of great repute asked him with a dramatic pause, “Sir, are you scared?” Is that even a valid question? Do you need to ask him to know of the answer?

Fine, as reporters it is your duty to ask questions and your right to get answers. Similarly, don’t you think that it is also the right of the victims to answer them or not? When will the media learn to be sensitive to the victims?

The whole media coverage was nothing but a big media circus. There was entertainment galore and the TRP’s soared, as people stayed glued to their television sets all night and day. Agreed, that it was only because of the TV news channels that we were able to get a minute by minute update on the happenings. But what about the levels of unprofessionalism involved? Very frankly, it is soon going to be very difficult to believe the news channels if they continue to function the way they are doing right now.

Recently, there was a petition that was started by Singer-musician Visha Dadlani, against this same practice of the electronic media. The response to it has been tremendous, with people accepting and supporting it, and it has already been filed in the High Court. The petition has raised a lot of questions of importance. Whether the HC will take any action or not, remains to be seen. But what is important is that people are waking up to the reality and willing to be participants of change. This is a very positive change, indeed.

Sneha Padiyath

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