As much as the terrorist attack on Mumbai has exposed India’s unpreparedness to respond, it has exposed the Indian media’s lack of ethics and the death of journalism in Indian television.
The commercial media workers have been screaming at us continuously for about four days now, conveying opinions and impressions rather than facts and figures. Bringing us, and to the terrorists, minute-by-minute updates on what the over-burdened, blundering, ill-equipped “security” forces were up to. They did not leave anyone alone – not freed hostages, nor the families of those who were still trapped. They kept beating their breasts once in a while, proclaiming that they were “standing sentinel” and performing a yeomen service, even going so far as to call themselves heroes. Two channels were even going at each other, claiming how their live coverage was actually live and not five minutes delayed like the other channels.
The media have behaved exactly as the terrorists would have liked them to behave – giving them continuous and live coverage, bringing them – their faces, their names, their every action – into our homes and lives. This also brings into sharp focus the role of the media in propagating the terrorists’ agenda – if the aim of the terrorist is to spead terror and discord, it is achieved by the fear-mongering and painfully-detailed destruction-accounting of the media. The media, as the terrorists expected, are playing their role to perfection.
Ajmal Kasab is from Faridkot. Why do I know where a murderous killer comes from? Because the TV says so, and has been saying so for more hours than I care to remember.
The way the mob of onlookers behaved at Nariman House was nothing short of shameful. Instead of calling it out, or taking the police to task for not doing their duty in maintaining law and order, the TV channels went to town, complimenting the mob on its ‘patriotism.’
The cameras zoomed into Nariman House, beaming close-up images of the bodies of dead hostages.
When a staff member of the Taj crawled free, he was immediately mobbed by cameramen and mike-wielding workers jostling with each other, with complete disregard for the man’s situation.
Right now, we are being subjected to close-ups of the weeping faces of the families of the people killed in the attack.
A look at the commercial media workers and their bosses should give us an insight into the quality and insensitivity of the coverage.
We studied journalism back when it meant integrity, perspective and a massive responsibility. We have grown up shaped by real journalism, and have had the honour of having known more than our fair share of them. Today, anyone who can speak into a microphone is a TV journalist, anyone who can operate a camera is a camera journalist. They are better characterized by the term ‘commercial media worker’ than by the time-hallowed ‘journalist.’ They are worked by bosses who have their eyes on nothing but the bottomline – TRPs and viewership determine what they do, rather than journalistic ethics and responsibilities. The pursuit of Mammon is the sole driver of media organizations, and this has been well-driven into every one of their workers.
It is time we stood up to this and said a resounding no.
My friend Vijay has written an open letter to the media. I stand by the ideas expressed in the letter.