Monday, April 22, 2013

Crime and punishment on news television

Channel surfer

Randeep Wadehra

Electronics media is a unique source of instant news and impromptu views, which impact the society in a manner that is subtle but enduring. Live coverage lets us have unprocessed news and reactions.

The police spokesperson probably had no time to think over what to say to the press after the Bangalore blast. First, he admitted that he was not sure whether it was a bomb blast or a mere gas cylinder. Later, he said that it was, in fact, a bomb but was not sure what sort of bomb. Another cop named the Indian Mujahedeen as perpetrators. On what basis? Nobody asked. And, what about the CCTV footage? It showed miniscule clips of a crumpled motorcycle and damaged vehicles, nothing else. What happened to the blast victims? We were told that they were taken to the hospital. Who took them to the hospital? And, which hospital? What was the nature of injuries? Again, no details.

Compare this with the Boston blast coverage; the manner in which the rescue was organized, the questions asked by the media and answers thereto. Rescue teams arrived within minutes of the blast and took the injured to the hospitals where, in a BBC correspondent’s words, they got “first class treatment”. He then went on to describe the nature of injuries inflicted upon the blast victims. By the weekend, both the terrorists were identified with the help of eyewitnesses and CCTV footage and accounted for. Not that the American media did not commit gaffes. The social media inspired naming of Sunil Tripathi as a suspect was the most glaring. But prompt action by the American security/investigative apparatus stamped out the mischief.

Even as news is unpredictable by nature, views on our talk shows are eminently predictable. Despite the verbal pyrotechnics, or perhaps because of them, nothing illuminating happened vis-à-vis the Bangalore situation. The Saffron Brigade dubbed it as a threat to their “senior leaders”. Does not matter that the blast happened in a parking lot and, that, by all accounts, it was an amateurish attempt in the sense that the bomb was placed near a van that took most of the brunt, thus limiting the damage. Others thought that it was most probably linked to the forthcoming polls, a crude attempt at polarizing the society for building up vote banks. But, there was not a single professional available to tell us of the nature of the bomb, its possible makers etc. This may be because such inputs do not spice up our TV talk shows. Bland facts are TRP killers. So, pit a Congress spokesperson, preferably a Muslim, against a jingoist saffronite, make them fight like pit bulls, and channels are assured of megabuck ads. Who cares about such mundane things like truth and justice? Certainly not our police and politicians, it would appear, if one goes by the TV news reports.

Even as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was bestowing the “Indian of the Year” award upon the late Nirbhaya/Damini on a NDTV show, a girl-child was being brutalized in the national capital. There were allegations that the police tried to hush up/trivialize the case. But the arrogance of the powerful stood out most glaringly on the small screen. A senior police officer slaps a girl demonstrator; another cop, in full protective gear, charges at an old Dalit woman, who is protesting against the rape of another girl-child in UP; in Punjab a bunch of goons beat up a woman – this time in Ludhiana – in public and, later on, the police reportedly tries to protect the goondas; elsewhere in Maharashtra, a politician’s power-drunk under-aged brat crushes a girl-child under his SUV, and his politician father tries to brazen it out on camera. But we really cannot blame the powerful. In a system wherein perjury is committed with impunity, a Mercedes Benz/BMW transforms into a truck, a superstar remains on bail after crushing pavement dwellers,  CCTV footages inexplicably blur while recording assault on a lowly police constable in the hallowed portals of a legislative assembly… well anything can happen.

But the camera-wielding warriors of electronics media should not give up. Sooner or later, the impact of their focused attention on crime will start bearing fruit. That will make our society saner and livable. Touchwood.

Published in The Financial World dated 22 April 2013

No comments: