Mumbai terror attack was unprecedented. It had multiple messages from the radicals, and the Indian intelligence agencies would now need to unravel and study the most barbaric and chilling terror attack on the country. For ages, the pictures from the scenes - the Taj Mahal Hotel, the Oberoi-Trident and the Nariman House - would remain embedded in the collective conscience of the Indians. There would be a lot of discussion within and by the media on the systemic flaws, intelligence failure, mishandling of the situation etc, etc.
The last three days, however, also provide a lot of scope to discuss Indian media. 24X7 news channels in particular, who were not only badly exposed for their incompetence, but also for a complete lack of coherence and understanding of the situation. Tracking the western media made more sense for those who were seeking insightful detail of the incidents than following those petulant noises on the news channels, for whom the story was not the dramatic scenes unfolding before their camera-eyes, but about themselves. One of the most fundamental lessons that one gets to learn in the newsrooms is when you report, you are just a medium. The story exists and unfolds; you are just a narrator, not a stakeholder or a character in the act. The more I saw of those channels, including the more famed ones, the more I felt sad: Indian media is abjectly ill-prepared to cover and report on such exigencies. Not only do we have dearth of talent, we don't actually have it. Most news channels were reporting their own acts of bravery, their own shock and awe, and scenes they felt could keep their ratings up. It was another sort of Media Deluge!
Thankfully, the Print stayed an exception. The newspapers indeed covered the event far more insightfully, and kudos to them.
What was however most unpardonable of the TV channels was the total lack of sense while reporting those pictures live, this - when the terrorists were no rookies and had access to some of the most sophisticated weaponry. Also, the ATS and NSG were saying that the terrorists were tracking their moves on television channels.
I was reminded of one of the biggest blunders by the reporter of a leading news channel during Kargil war. The hysterical reporter reportedly gave minute details of the positions and locations of Indian army troops, putting to grave danger the lives of troops. That was understandable. It was perhaps the first war that an infant television media was covering then. Ten years on, we are no more infants. We are just toddlers though. We committed the same mistake this time too, and much the same way, by reporting live every move that the NSG commandos, army troops and ATS was preparing for. Shivraj Patil, who would go down in the history books as one of the most incompetent and incapable Home Ministers, did not lag begind. He joined the media bandwagon by spelling the exact number of commandoes being sent to Mumbai to combat the terrorists, who had unleashed a dance of death, and other such detail.
There should be no space in reportage for ifs and buts, and theories of "we believe", "we hope", "we understand", "could be" or "would be" while telling stories live.
If you don't know, you don't know. Simple. There's no harm in saying that some time. But as one saw the coverage, one got confused, if the reporter was sharing information, or his/her own thought or belief!
Would there be any debate on such media: their role, their positions? Perhaps no. Would there be some introspection within the electronic media. May be, yes. But specific beats that gave journalists to study and research the complex issues of out times have ceased to exist long ago. Saste mein mast! And who has got time for research or study?
I am terrified at the thought of how insecure our future is. Not because of terrorism or terrorists, but because an ill-equipped, un-trained and incompetent TV media are shaping a collective public conscience and opinion through a totally superficial content.