Friday, July 14, 2006

Indian Blogs Slam TV Coverage of Mumbai Blasts

Right from the time the story of the Mumbai blasts of Tuesday, July 11 broke, it was the headliner in all of the Indian television channels. As it should be. From the coverage, it was quite obvious that television camera and crew managed to get to the blast sites much quicker than any of the emergency or law and order personnel in the city.

TV channels also became conduits for sending and receiving messages through text messaging at a time when calling facilities on cell phone networks and landlines were down. Scores of people succeeded in reaching their families and friends and satisfying themselves that they were all right. For this, the channels deserve kudos.

In times of crisis, citizens turn to television channels for news and information quite automatically. What with all the technological innovations, satellite systems, on site broadcasting systems, etc., and more importantly, with the onset of 24-hour news channels, it is becoming the norm that television channels stick with a story not for minutes or hours, but for days on end, sending reporters to chase down and present each tiny new bit of information (which is then duly "flashed" at the bottom of the screen under the monicker "breaking news").

But when does this coverage cross the line? When does it all become too much? What are the situations in which media channels should exercise restraint and say, "This much and no more?"

Going by the voices in the Indian blogosphere that have spoken over the past three days on this issue, it appears that the Indian television channels did cross the line in their coverage of the Mumbai blasts.

The complaints fall into two broad categories:
  • Television channels exercising no restraint when it came to showing gory images of broken bodies and bloodied body parts; and

  • Anchors and reporters harping on the "exclusivity" of the images shown on their television channel and plugging the fact that their images were being shown worldwide.

Mumbai Help
quite simply asks that the display of mangled bodies on television be stopped. Kishore at All in a Day's Work writes about the television coverage of the Mumbai blasts and of the death of Suryanarayana, the Indian engineer kidnapped and executed by the Taliban in Afghanistan,
Media is in the business of generating revenues. It's the bottom line which matters. And anything that creates a sensation, sells. Anything that demonstrates a conflict, sells. Anything that gets glorified, sells. Anything that instills a fear, sells. Conflict sells. Peace is boring.
Mridula at Travel Tales from India, horrified at the gory images she saw on television no matter what channel she turned to, put up links to blogs that had already written about the issue and appealed to other bloggers to blog about it as well,
If you turn on the TV it is all over the place. No, I do not mean the news. I mean showing the dead bodies of the blast victims with scant regard for human dignity. I think here is one small issue where we, the people who blog can make a small difference.

I have an appeal for you. If you blog and if you feel strongly about the way Indian news channels (almost all) are beaming the images of the dead, blog about it. If enough number of people do it, someone somewhere has to take notice. We have done it before and if we care about it we can do it again. I am willing to aggregate as many links as possible on this issue along with this post.
From her post and from some of the comments left there, here are a couple of the voices. Please do read the rest of her post.

Pooja Agarwal at Travel Memoirs comments on Zee TV's coverage,
They were actually showing dead bodies lying on the track and injured people being dragged to rescue. Even sitting this far from my country, I could not help but feel for everyone back home who were probably seeing these images continuously and how disturbing they must be for everyone.
Insane Mind writes on the crassness that pervaded the coverage,
The media coverage of the terrorist attack and its aftermath was crass, to say the least. I had watched the news channels for a long time, getting number, seeing the same gruesome images being aired over and over again. The media has lost its control, and its humanity.
Of all television channels and anchors, the choicest brickbats seem to be reserved for CNN/IBN and its head Rajdeep Sardesai.

I was bemused at first and then dismayed at the importance CNN/IBN was giving to its own (in its view) pre-eminence in the Indian television field. I was aware of Sardesai's tendency to puff up with self-importance in the presence of celebrities (his interview with Imran Khan and Kapil Dev was painful to watch at times), but it took on rather alarming proportions on Tuesday night.

Emma questions the need for gore and writes that such displays end up disrespecting the dead. Buchu found Sardesai's coverage annoying. Sumankumar simply says, "Rajdeep Sardesai takes this opportunity to sing praises on his channel CNN-IBN." News describes CNN/IBN's bloody coverage,
Rajdeep was anchoring from one of the bombed first class coaches. He kept on pointing at and showing blood splashed window glasses of the train for a good 10 minutes. As if this was not enough, what followed were blood smeared bodies of injured people. Then there were limbs and other body parts of the dead on the platforms and rail tracks. Blood blood and more blood.
Gaurav Sabnis at Vantage Point notes,
7:42 - Rajdeep Sardesai on CNN-IBN - "These pictures are now being beamed on all CNN networks all over the world. Indians all over the world watching CNN are now watching CNN-IBN. This is the power of CNN-IBN". Yes Rajdeep, we are very proud of you. Your timing for patting yourself on the back is admirable.
Amit Varma at India Uncut berates Sardesai for bragging about "how 'this is the power of a global news organisation. These pictures are going out across the world thanks to CNN-IBN.'"

Starship Enterprise presents an alternative view. Writing in response to Mridula's post, he/she writes that displaying the gore stemming from terrorist attacks such as the Mumbai blasts is necessary for a reality check,
Bloodshed is a excruciatingly real image of a bomb blast. To skim over it like it didn't exist would be to overlook the reality and cower in a safe corner of comfort. We, who are fortunate enough to be alive, should not shy away from gory images because they shock our complacent sensibilities.
Pradeep Nair, commenting on Kishore's post writes that viewers, sitting in the comfort of their living rooms, have the wrong idea about journalists and the work they do,
I am a journalist and I must admit, on occasions, we do get carried away by events. So, constantly we have to remind ourselves to be restrained. This is most apparent in the case of the TV, much less on the radio; and to some extent in the print. This "getting carried away" phenomenon is nothing new. Only that in this TV era, it is so much more visible to the common person.

One reason for the wrong perception is, I feel, the journalist is there right at the spot, in the thick of events… while the viewer or reader is in the comforts of the home. It’s only natural viewers react the way they do. But it will be good, if they understand that facts are different.

There is one point few people realise: The very things that make people view a programme are precisely the things that they don’t like. It's ironic, but true. Take the punch or the most captivating aspect out of the programme or article, you won't watch it or read it. Then, no criticism, no applause.
BongoPundit has an excellent post/round-up on media and the Mumbai blasts in general. Sepia Mutiny comments on the deafening silence in the western blogosphere, and Curious Gawker points to the inane commentary at one of the few non-Indian blogs that did write about the blasts. Please do read.

What are your thoughts on the role of media at times such as these? How much is too much and do viewers really need to see every last detail, no matter how graphic, of every story? Is this a function of the 24/7 news cycle?

If you notice other blogs on this issue, please do leave the link in the comments section.


Here is Vijay's take on the issue:

Just as I was seeing some gory pictures on the television, it struck me I should write a post, condemning these cowardly and dastardly acts. But then I thought, am I not doing the same mistake what the media is doing ? Just that I am sensationalising through a medium which is still in its nascent stages of growth. I realised, getting hits on your blog is similar to having more TRP for your new channel. That, I guess is what human nature is, opportunism, which is not wrong, but at times of tragedy, not the right thing. But this post is only to pray for the bereaved souls and to give solidarity to all Mumbaikars.

I again come to the point about the media, and its opportunistic nature. It's all fine to provide helpline numbers and provide sms service to stranded people. But it is not fine to telecast pictures of mayhem and death on national television.


Anonymous said...

It is even worse when you get to see the amputated head or limb of your loved ones, or when children see such hauntings images!!

Media has gone too far in the name of "putting it all out".. !


Anonymous said...

It's good to highlight the images of death and destruction. Only then will the sheeple realize they better do something about it otherwise it will be their turn next time.

That being said, the newscasters must be respectful and sensitive in their comments.

Anonymous said...

Some effective suggestions for the everyday citizens of Mumbai post blasts:

1. Socially boycott Sanjay Dutt movies. He is one of the accused in the devastating 1993 serial bomb blasts to hit Mumbai. Let us not treat these guys as stars.

2. Mahesh Bhatt, Shabana Azmi, Teesta Setalvad, Arundhati Roy, Dilip D'Souza and other pseudo-intellectuals who allowed slums to proliferate in Mumbai - a perfect base for jehadis – penalize them too by socially ostracizing these termites of Mumbai.

3. Stop reading Outlook magazine. Vinod Mehta, brother of the cashiered and disgraced Maj Gen Ashok Mehta (for stealing the affection of brother officers' wives), has constantly demoralized our Army and defends Pakistan as it was his own country. (Ask Army HQ if you feel like checking facts.)

3. No more cricket matches with Pakistan. If our spineless government goes ahead, quit watching it on TV and in stadiums.

4. Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh is more concerned with his son's film career. Penalize his inept behavior by boycotting Ritesh Deshmukh films (the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons). Ditto with SIMI sympathizer Abu Azmi whose junkie son runs Basilico Restaurant in Colaba and Bandra.

5. TV channels that glorify Dawood and his cronies should be switched off.

6. Enough of film news. It's making our youth stupid and unaware. They have lost the fighting spirit due to this mindless entertainment-based news.

7. Start a petition to take the Z Security away from our beloved politicians (be it Congress, BJP, Shiv Sena, RSS, SP or any other party) and give it to the common man. Only when they feel the danger will these inept politicians take action.

8. Boycott SIMI lover Mulyam Singh Yadav, his Samajwadi Party, his cronies Amar Singh, Subroto Sahara Roy and his companies and their social functions.

9. It is apparent the Gujarati community is being targeted post Godhra. They can use their money power to fund citizen vigiliante groups and cut off money supply to those who associate with unsavoury underworld sorts.

Anonymous said...

it is Sumankumar and not Sukumar. Thanks anyway!

Sujatha Bagal said...

Opps! Sorry Sumankumar. Will fix it straightaway!

Anonymous said...

Sujatha, haven't got any mail from you. Did you send it to yahoo?

Anonymous said...
14 july

Vijay said...

Add my comments to the list please :)

Ashutosh Sovani said...

Completely agree with this blog. The ghastly coverage by the channels must be condemned. It can also have a cascading effect on the minds of many youth.

Good summary of the different blogs that have also condemned the coverage.

Anonymous said...

No one's perfect, then why everyone is judging others.
U set ur home right, that's the only way