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Indian Media Plagued by Sensationalism

They say India is a 'land of paradoxes'. Recent events have earned India a reputation of a nation of bunglers as well. Truly, India fits the label 'functional anarchy'.
The terror attacks in Mumbai last week bring forward the glaring lack of some basic competencies such as tact, and understanding the gravity of situation. An article by senior journalist and Member of Parliament Arun Shourie in The Indian Express (1 January) makes it quite clear that all the important government authorities including the Home Minister and the NSA were well aware of the security threat to the nation via sea route. Why the necessary steps were not taken, could be a question everyone is bound to ask. The simple reason is, these 'dignified' people aren't accountable for any lapse on their part. No responsible political or government official can be tried in court on criminal charges for damages occurring due to his mishandling/bungling acts. It's an open secret these dignitaries successfully 'manage' even the judiciary. At most, they lose their portfolios, but hardly ever are they forced to face the rigors of harsh imprisonment.

Long since television has become an integral part of our life. Whenever possible, headline stories are covered live on the television, followed by updates and discussions. However, news reporting on tragedies and crises is expected to be handled with a certain degree of maturity and a sense of responsibility. What do we get to see when it comes to Indian news channel reporting? A thoroughly unprofessional, and irresponsible way of doing your job, to say in the least. Recent media coverage of the terror attacks in Mumbai has brought the incompetence and irresponsibility of handling tragic and sensitive situation to the fore. Perhaps it is a problem with the Indian Subcontinent. Do Indian people appreciate melodrama, sensationalism, display of loud emotions, and crass sense of exhibitionism more? Or the media people thought so, which reflected in the subsequent live coverage.

Another irritating facet of typical Indian way of dealing with such situations. You would find Indian media full of praise of the brave face of the affected people even after such a tragic incident. Agreed! Such a courageous and never-say-die spirit is definitely laudable, but this parroting of clich├ęs hide the shameful incompetence of the government authorities concerned.

Ordinary people have no choice but to get on with life, no matter what. Another ugly face of Indian media, especially the news channels, emerged in its insensitive, irresponsible, crass way of reporting. Perhaps Indian television reporting has never heard of words such as responsible journalism, a sense of occasion, or gravity of situation. All its reporting was an offensive display of grabbing every minute of the tragic situation to loud phrase-mongering. It is also reported by the same media that some of the coverage by certain news channels could have actually helped the terrorists, yet still there is no sense of guilt among these irresponsible media people, who have made it their business to exploit commercially even the tragic situations, even at the cost of national security.

Another alarming aspect is that these channels hammer rather crude but catchy messages over and again without bothering to confirm facts. This repeated onslaught is hurled on viewers, who tend to believe what they are seeing on television, sometimes creating confusion, fear or hatred among certain sections of the society, thus creating a rift in the society.

A glimpse at any of Indian news channels would send a shiver down the spine. It is not uncommon to hear 'What is the situation like, what is the current figure of victims' or shamelessly hurling questions such as "How do you react / What do you feel about.. ?" What else does one expect to express in situations tragic or sad? Do you expect people babbling in front of TV cameras when stricken by grief and shock? Sad, but true, go and see how people are glued to the TVs.

But it would be asking too much from a nation that lacks the very element - a sense of responsibility. People are not bothered about basic things such as work ethics, or cleanliness; government officials care a fig about transparency or corruption. Overall approach of the government is reflected in any long-term concrete policy against terrorism, lack of will to curb terrorism. Politics, policy of appeasement, calculations for the sake of elections and vote banks come in the way of dealing with crime, even in times of national crisis. Irresponsible reporting by the news channels is therefore a mere reflection of how a nation functions and a society responds to a crisis. It takes a race of spirited people and responsible citizens to rise to the occasion. Security measures taken by the Americans after 9/11 or Israeli action plan after the Munich Olympic tragedy are a case in point. Sadly, in the Indian context, a corrupt system defeats the sacrifice of its own brave and courageous people who laid down their lives fighting terror.
By Maya Pillai
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