Anshu Joshi |
Welcome to the age of highly advanced technology and digital revolution. An age, where everything is updated in a fraction of seconds, media is no exception. Zeroing down to Indian context, digital or TV media has changed all definitions and understanding pertaining to mass communication in general. Monitor any news channel closely and you will understand that everything is on sale here, breaking news is ‘the’ word and the day is ‘planned’ in a way to grab the maximum eyeballs and achieve maximum TRPs.
For past few days, the famous (or should it be called infamous?), Sheena Bora murder case has taken the most important slot and priority on most of the news channels, so much so that the news of international significance and national interest are dumped to be shown later. Every bit and piece related to this case has been made the ‘news’. What Indrani Mukerjea is eating, what she is thinking, the colour of her dress and so on, is all ‘news’. As per the famous cultivation theory of mass communication, the audiences are psychologically affected and influenced by what is shown to them by TV channels continuously. The level of its impact on the psyche of audiences can be understood by a recent news story of a seventh standard school boy from Delhi, who, after thoroughly watching the Sheena Bora news story, wrote a note mentioning he is an ‘illegitimate’ child and his mother is like Indrani Mukerjea. Leaving teachers and his family in a state of shock, he also mentioned that his mother likes to have sex with many men.
The detrimental effect that TV channels are causing on people of all age groups and classes is to be retrospected thoroughly. Is it related to overdose of news coverage, or crossing all limits while deciding the content, or not adhering to the primary goal of media i.e. sharing information rationally without any fear or favour, or all clubbed together? The question is complex and involves a comprehensive, multi-dimensional analysis.
Sheena Bora case is not the first and the only example to evaluate the imperative role of Indian media in society and system and of course our lives. Prior to this, many such news stories can be quoted where the role of media can be questioned based on its purpose of existence. After Yakub Memon was hanged, all Indian news channels broadcasted the minutest and redundant details without giving any thought to the repercussions, as otherwise, the news was crisp and simple – Yakub Memon, convicted of Mumbai bomb blast of 1993 case by the Supreme Court of India, is hanged. What did he eat, what did he read, what did he converse and with whom, where he would be buried, were all shown for good two days. So much superfluous focus invited unanticipated (or expected?) attention of the antisocial elements who eventually warned Indian government and people of dire consequences for hanging Yakub Memon.
Apart from these examples, the 2008 Mumbai terror attack can be discussed as a classic case study to analyse what is media’s role in aiding the society, government and people, especially during national crisis, and what is it actually practicing. The so called 24×7 coverage and no self-restraint on the content have made media play a more of negative role instead of its actual aim – to be the fourth pillar of the democracy. Media’s role in potentially impacting the scope and outcome of any event can be understood by what it did during Mumbai terror attack in 2008. On November 26 2008, the financial capital of India, Mumbai faced an unprecedented terror attack from Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic militant organisation. Entire nation was under a state of shock and panic, while the Mumbai police and security forces were trying their best to get a hold over the entire situation. However, the role that media played during the entire incident was criticised by many and mentioned as ‘TV terror’ for showing horrific scenes, being too aggressive, and reporting incorrect information as fact sometimes. “They don’t need to apologise as much as they need to introspect, figure out how to operate in a time of crisis,” said Dipankar Gupta, sociology professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
The Supreme Court also condemned the Indian media for its role during the Mumbai terror attack, while confirming the death of Ajmal Kasab, the only survived Pakistani terrorist, and prescribed media to follow stringent self-regulation while covering any incident. In an overexcitement to show the ‘live coverage’, the reporters from various news channels not only added to security challenge for the security forces that were combating against the terrorists, but also shared the information that was used by the terrorists. Also, the news soon was spread on the social media, which created an unnecessary state of fright. It was mentioned in many articles, and agreed that Indian TV channels did not serve any national interest while covering the Mumbai terror attack. On the contrary they used the entire crisis for making maximum profit putting the national security under immense threat.
The records related to the attack, especially those of Taj Hotel and Nariman House also revealed that the terrorists and their associates across the border were able to get all important details on TV, because of the unstopped coverage by the Indian news channels. The Supreme Court, although believed that it cannot be decided if the security forces actually suffered any casualty or injuries because of the obtuse coverage by the Indian news channels. However, it believed that the way the activities were covered and broadcasted by the news channels, added vastly to the intricacy and risk for the security forces.
Media has a unique attribute of evading the situation of panic by positively informing people. However, on the other hand, it can also add to the state of fear and confusion to complicate the entire situation. Thus, it is very important to pay attention to TV media’s positive and significant contribution in constructing not only the society in general, but also the mindsets in particular. Apart from being self-regulatory while deciding the limits of any content or news, it also needs to understand its actual purpose, to create true awareness among people, and not to create any panic by showing wrong or uncontrolled information. It has the most powerful tool to connect with the people i.e. information, which has to be used vigilantly. It sounds too idealist, but not impossible. It is the age of shared ideas and knowledge to motivate positive social construct, and hence it is high time when the Indian TV media needs to move beyond the trend of ‘selling’ news to achieve the state of ‘sharing’ news.
- Various news articles and programmes related to Sheena Bora murder case and Yakub Memon cases
- Indians condemn media coverage of Mumbai attacks by Daniel Pepper, December 23, 2008, The McClatchy DC website, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2008/12/23/58383/indians-condemn-media-coverage
- 26/11 attack: Media pulled by Supreme Court for its role by S. Ahmed Ali, The Times of India, 31 August 2012, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/26/11-attack-Media-pulled-by-Supreme-Court-for-its-role/articleshow/16054201.cms
About the Author: Anshu Joshi is a doctorate from School of International Studies, JNU, New Delhi and worked on issues related to terrorism, bioterrorism and role of media in creating a comprehensive BW defence mechanism. She is a political analyst and writer.