Barkha Dutt & more of her ilk

many news channels covering the mumbai terror attacks seemed to have lost sense of right & wrong. the tendency to ask insensitive questions that can’t possibly be answered continued. barkha dutt asking a middle-aged woman who’s husband was stuck in Taj with no news of whether he was even alive: “how does it feel?” the poor lady was barely able to speak & honestly, what did ms dutt expect her to say? the lady said, i am trying to be brave, my friends are being a great support to me… did ms dutt need to know that? i thought at this point, given her state, ms dutt would stop asking her questions. but no, next qs: “i understand you have children – how are they feeling right now?”

if someone were falling off a cliff, ms dutt would be asking them “how does it feel?” instead of doing something to rescue them!!

equally idiotic were journalists asking Ratan Tata if he knew how many terrorists were inside the hotel & if he knew the extent of damage. this when the entire operation was in process and took many more hours to complete.

ms dutt, in fact, decided to reveal all kinds of information that really shouldn’t have been on the news at all. a husband who mentioned which room his wife was last in, was broadcast at a time when terrorists were still inside! whereas the BBC when on the line with a British national inside the Trident, said, “we understand that you should not tell us which room you are located in, for your own safety”. later, when there were reports that the govt has said they will not negotiate with terrorists, she says, she has it on record from a senior diplomat that attempts to negotiate are on! even if that was the case, surely the official sources did not want to reveal information and broadcasting it to the general public helped no one, maybe caused some damage that we would never know about.

as for the other channels, zee news, headlines today, india TV, star news… were all horrific, playing out the entire 50 odd hours with high pitched voices, melodramatic voice-overs and haunting music, that did absolutely nothing to prevent the spread of panic. am quoting a friend here who sent a mail about Star News & Kishore Ajwani

“Was this a serious news guy or a pimp, peddling his wares all dressed up in garish tones? The screaming voice sounded like gleeful auctioneer raising the bids higher and higher “aur yeh 1945 ka behterin…. …” though in his case the script would have probably read “Aaj ki taaza khabar, pachaas TRPs ke liye pesh hai Star News exclusive, yeh aatank ka khaufnak khel.”
Yes all news anchors were hyper, but then there is a difference between a sense of urgency and the style of delivery that Mr Ajwani used. We all know the cut-throat race for TRPs, but did you, Mr. Ajwani even stop to think that this was also a human story, a tragedy involving real people.”

BBC & CNN were predictably biased, especially since there were reports that british and american nationals were targeted. their reports only covered that, forgetting that a high number of those injured or killed were in fact, indians.

Times Now had some of the best coverage though even they tended to border on hyperbole at times. but overall, their coverage was impressive and they made an effort to distinguish between official statements and unsubstantiated reports, repeatedly mentioning which ones were not confirmed. however at times, arnab goswami went into the “exclusively on times now” “only on times now” hyperbole… was it essential to continue plugging your channel during the time of the crises?

there were channels showing the arrival of the NSG, the number of teams that had arrived, where they were located. how is it that not one of them realised that making this information public could harm the operation?

constant predictions of when it would end, asking a journalist standing outside Nariman House to imagine was happening in armed combat inside (!!), “the end game” – a phrase i have come to hate – being bandied about since friday morning, when it took a full 24 hours more for the Taj to be safe. how can one refer to this as “the end game”? its not a video game, its a real operation with real people and spreading constant misinformation that the operation is in its last legs and will soon be over helped no one – not even the families waiting for info about people inside. every interview with an army officer said, “please don’t quantify time, its not possible to do that” and yet all the journalists were interested in was predicting that it would end soon.

imagine there was no 24 hours news – would it have been possible for the entire operation to have been more efficient and controlled? i don’t think it was brave of journalists to be on their stomachs outside the Taj trying to provide sound bytes of what was happening. i think it was ridiculous that the blow by blow account was being provided even to the supporters of these terrorists so that they could plan their next move. yes, news is essential. but at what cost?

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    • Tanvi Mehta
    • November 29th, 2008

    your comments, dear friend, are spot on. not one channel was flawless. and although the bbc too was biased, at least it had accurate and reliable information. yes, we’re all left a bit exhausted, partly out of having to bear barkha dutt panting and mahrukh screeching. and what about? the same thing, over and over again. repeated ad nauseum. i mean, for fuck’s sake. if there’s nothing happening, there’s nothing happening. move to another story. or analyse the situation. which they did. but with whom? alyque padamsee? what the fuck?

    • Preeti
    • November 29th, 2008

    Totally agree with your comments. There were more moments that veered on the ridiculous rather than balanced side during this entire coverage. Most of our journalists seem to think that hyperbole is the way to go and there was a time when the journalist on Zee News was so darned hysterical, one could not even understand what he was saying. And of course, the less said about ‘Breaking News’ the better. The BBC and CNN, for all they went on and on about foreign nationals being targeted, at least presented a sense of urgency without hysterics. And their analysis (with experts) was also much welcome and well researched, as compared to the many opinions being bandied about by persons on Indian news channels, whose only qualification seems to be that they are a celebrity of some sort.

    • Sainath
    • November 29th, 2008

    I agree! Rajdeep Sardesai to a just-rescued Jap chef from the Wasabi…”Sir are you scared?” Like whoa!?!Think the media needs to be given a crash course in etiquette and ethics especially the hindi channels. Every channel to date has different figures on the number of terrorists, injured, dead…think we need to make them as accountable as the bloody politicians.

    • Anil P
    • November 30th, 2008

    Sometime if you can get hold of Charles Kuralt’s On The Road, freeze your day and read him.

    • Kishore
    • December 2nd, 2008

    This is Kishore Ajwani. I apologise to all of you who think that I demeaned the profession I belong to. This was not about me, or MICA, or Mumbai, or my news channel. It was about India and I take full responsibility for all the things that I am being blamed for. I can only submit that I would try to ensure that such conduct is not repeated if I happen to be in any such situation ever again. I know nothing that I do or say can assuage the feelings that I would have hurt. I am sorry.

  1. hey came here from twitter !i agree – the news channels suck. journalism & journalists make me wary. i actually trust the politicians – as a breed – more then the 4th estate tho' there are good people, the bad outweigh them by a ton 😦

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