MJ Akbar in one of his articles talks about right of expression vis-à-vis right of making an impression. There is a very thin line which divides the two and much too often this transgression by the latter into former is done without anybody sensing it. A case in point is the ubiquitous news channel.
No sooner had 26/11 entered the list of nouns in the language you presently read than the news channels all around went into an overdrive to churn out the best and worst of the episode. Since the information coming out of the official mouthpiece was same, various news-channels liberally applied the marketing principles to these nuggets of information, to sell them to the viewer. One headline shouted, “Scared Pakistan succumbing to pressure”; another said, “Kasab says I am Pakistani”; yet another said, “Defiant Pakistan rejects Indian evidence”. These rabblerousing headlines are as much provocative as the acts committed by the terrorists. That the much too evident complicity of Pakistan in the attacks had never escaped the public eye; to have these blatant attempts made by the media at influencing the viewer was far from necessary.
Statements like the ones mentioned above create an air of sensationalism and ride on jingoism. The attacks, as such, were meant to create sensation but such statements and postures by media, instead of helping sanity prevail in these times, coax knee-jerk reactions from various quarters of the society. You suddenly see protest march, night-vigils and half-baked truths floating around - all lending credibility to a heightened sense of frenzy. Would it then surprise anyone if a group of youths pick up arms and re-enact the attacks in Pakistan?
There is already enough evidence of how Pakistani media has molded the perception of its public by constantly feeding them with war rhetoric and a make believe threat from India. The right of expression, on which media thrives, has been taken for granted on both the sides and the gullible public has been treated to a customized truth to fuel the media’s TRP.
Some might say that media is only doing its job albeit in a bit ‘tasteful’ manner; however, one mustn’t forget that in this age of graphic visuals and details it is far too easy to influence the less informed. Truth must be told but to evoke responsibility and not frenzy. How do you think, an average Indian would have reacted to the attacks? First would have come the shock mixed with disbelief, then pain and sorrow at the loss, this would have been followed by the impatience to take revenge, and finally diplomatic delays and inaction would have supplanted revenge with cynicism for government and loathe for Pakistan. In all these, much too obvious, set of reactions there should have been an increased sense of responsibility prevailing in the news media to guide their viewer through the maze of truth and facts and help him get informed. However, all one has seen post 26/11 is a constant focus on Pakistan. It intrigues this author to note that in the aftermath of these attacks, and also after the series of ‘low/medium intensity’ blasts that took place recently in various parts of India, there wasn’t much interest shown by the media to highlight the rot that had set in the police system of the country. How many of us know that most of the CCTvs that had been previously installed in Delhi, particularly the ones found at the blast sites, were not at all functioning? According to foreign media, the ‘bullet-proof’ jackets worn by NSG were actually riot-proof jackets. Did the commandos have any good communication devices or night vision goggles? Why was it necessary to wait for a govt. aircraft to fly the commandos from Delhi to Mumbai when the govt. could have asked any commercial airline to ferry the commandos to Mumbai? Surely some arrangement of this sort could have been looked into in such times of national emergency. We cry for NSG centers in metros and also for a federal investigating body but does the media care to check whether the city police have an able and functioning command system in place? Why are the constables still pathetically carrying the ‘laathi’ and not also a communication set that may find its use when an incident takes place and the police machinery is immediately set into motion?
There are umpteen questions to be asked and yet many to look for but the media hasn’t been thoughtful of doing this. With such power at its disposal, media could have played a pivotal role in highlighting the sieve-like penetrable security system of the country; the concerned viewers anguish could have been mobilized to set in motion some productive reforms in the failing system. But the media has lost this opportunity in such an irredeemable way that all one can do is just reconcile with one’s hopelessness.
We cannot overlook or condone what our ‘friendly’ neighbor has done or has been doing. But its time that the media turns the spotlight inwards for a thorough and complete overhaul of the system.