Sunday, December 14, 2008

Collateral Benefits


The term “collateral damage” has become popular after 26/11 – but there have been also some ‘collateral benefits’ too, if I may call them so.

One among them, is the introspection it has set in motion within the media (we saw a bit of that earlier after the Arushi Talwar case) about their role in covering the event; For the first time perhaps there has been such a public outcry over the TV Channels making a spectacle (some called it a “light and sound show”) out of a national tragedy. The security agencies and the government too have come down with a heavy hand (ham-handedly some might say) to chastise the channels for what they thought was rather “irresponsible” coverage often at the risk of compromising the operations. Advisories are being issued by the I & B Ministry. And there is serious talk about a Code of Conduct being prescribed (one hears - a PiL signed by 19,000 people has been filed to that effect) and mumblings about “self-regulation”. This has put the leading channels - and their star editors – for once on the back-foot, if not veritably on the mat.

So we have NDTV running a scroll challenging ‘unsubstantiated allegations’ and threatening action. Barkha wrote a lengthy defence on the NDTV website (read by clicking here) and Rajdeep valiantly argued his case (and that of his fellow-broadcasters’) on CNN-IBN’s sister channel CNBC-TV18 (in a special edition of “Storyboard” - brilliantly moderated by Anuradha Sengupta).

If there was one up-‘anchor-ship’ among the channels there was also up-commando-ship among the security agencies – each more keen to speak to the camera about the success of their operations only to be proved wrong a few minutes later. Therefore, Rajdeep made a valid point when he said that our establishment must also learn how to manage a 1000-pound Gorilla that 24/7 Television News can be. Our authorities – be it the police, security forces or politicians – need to be put through some basic media training. As the Reuters South Asia correspondent Phil Smith pointed out – you can’t blame the ‘twenty something’ reporters who saw this as an opportunity of a lifetime to shoot into fame a la Christiane Amanpour in Kuwait and Iraq or even our very own Ms Dutt of Kargil fame.

I found Meenakshi Madhvani had an interesting take on all this. She thought what would finally buck the trend is advertisers turning away from channels which sensationalise news – realising that editorial environment is as important than as TRP ratings.

However much we flay the electronic media for sensationalism and over exposure – the nearly 60 hours of non-stop TV coverage that gripped the world across geo-political fault-lines has undeniably played a massive role in rallying the entire nation in our own ‘desi’ version of war against terror.

In all this chatter, here’s one earthy first-hand account of that fateful night (Click here to read the article)