Some members of Lok Raj Sangathan were invited to the inaugural meeting of the Foundation of Media Professionals, on “Who is to Blame for the Media Hysteria on Terror?”
Senior media person Ms Madhu Trehan, who was moderating the discussion, began by referring to the media coverage of the recent terrorist attack in Mumbai and said that it was obvious that though the media personnel took great pains to provide up-to-the-minute coverage, they had committed several mistakes, some of them endangering the lives of people caught in the hotels and more importantly, propagating jingoism against our neighbouring country, Pakistan.
Mr Vinod Mehta, editor of Outlook, was candid in saying that people were in fact angry with the media and that he, as a senior journalist, would like to criticise himself. He bluntly stated that it was wrong to say that the media indulged in sensationalism because “viewers or readers wanted it”, since the viewers only wanted information and it was up to the media to cover events in the best possible manner. Mr Saeed Naqvi, another senior journalist, agreed that viewers would have to take what the media gave them – the story of the attacks was riveting, and it was up to the media to maintain balance and perspective and not give in to jingoism moreover without having any proof to offer.
Renowned filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt said that the electronic news media covering the events had resorted to methods used in fictional presentations such as those used in Bollywood films, such as playing sensational background music, whipping up emotions and gravitating journalism to ground zero – its lowest level. While Bollywood is often accused, perhaps rightly, of jingoism in films like Ghadar, it was the news media which had lost all perspective on this occasion and did not stop to think that what they were doing could even lead to devastating war. Instead of helping people to comprehend what was unfolding in front of their eyes, it demonised our neighbour Pakistan, and its behaviour became worse as time progressed. In his eyes, news channels became part of the problem and sorely disappointed him and many other citizens.
Ms Madhu Trehan also referred to the unchecked behaviour of the news channels also further endangering the lives of people caught in the two hotels. While the US has developed the art of sanitising media to the extent of ‘embedding’ journalists to present only the official point of view to the world, it was important, she said, that media professionals should themselves develop and adhere to a proper code of conduct in such situations. Former chief of police of the Punjab, Mr Julio Ribeiro, however said that in his opinion the electronic media stayed within proper limits. Mr Anil Dharker, senior editor, disagreed saying that terror was in fact spread by TV. Anchors lost objectivity completely; they spouted too much jingoism and provocation. TV in fact became the eyes and ears of the terrorists – telling the terrorists inside these buildings what the commando forces outside were planning, how many people were still trapped inside and where and so on.
Mr Dipankar Gupta, Professor, JNU and a sociologist, said that the bad consequences of the media actions were perhaps to some extent unintended, while increase in viewership was intended. However media also exposed the fact that the state did not provide its citizens with protection, and the sloppy attempts at rescuing those trapped by the terrorists. Another senior journalist said that he took his share of blame for becoming party to the spread of jingoism and warmongering, though he and his colleagues covered the events at great personal risk.
Lok Raj Sangathan stands for peace in South Asia and opposes the warmongering of the Indian state as well as the interference of imperialist powers in the affairs of the region. The Indian government is clearly using the recent terror attacks of furthering its own agenda, which includes strengthening its strategic alliance with US imperialism and closer links with the military and intelligence agencies of the US. The mass media in general and the electronic media (TV) in particular, are being used to repeat the lies of the Indian state and whip up hysteria against Pakistan. This intense and candid debate among senior media personnel however shows that the attempt of the Indian state to use terror attacks for warmongering and other narrow ends is being opposed in many quarters, among others by professionals working in the mass media too.
by Dr Venkatesh Sundaram