Mumbai Events: The Media’s Role

Posted: December 1, 2008 in india, mumbai blasts Nov 2008, television
Tags: ,

Ever since the CNN correspondent reported the Gulf War from the trenches, no global event, no terrorist attack is an isolated incident anymore. All such events play to the gallery as a large reality television show.

The purists may not like it. But they cannot deny it.

It was no different this time around when, for an extended period of 4 days, terrorists battled the security forces in Mumbai. The plethora of news channels that have come up in India, all covered the events non-stop, round the clock. One had the choice to view the different perspectives and in that itself, there was a story.

While the events were going on, it was all about giving fresh news and inputs on the developments, post events, it was the analysis. Both of these aspects were important and showcased the values that the channels stood by.

During the period of encounter, there was temptation for the channels to give that bit of extra information, even if it was speculative to an extent. There was also the temptation to get that little extra peek into the happenings, and for the cameraman to move to a more vantage point compared to the others. In spite of the security restrictions. There was a temptation to get to the terrorists if they could, to get a scoop of a story in terms of the persons responsible for it, etc.

I was following the events, essentially on two channels. For a long time, I followed it on CNN-IBN. Over the years, one has generated some respect for Rajdeep Sardesai, and for regular viewing, this channel had become the default news source for me. So it was the channel that I kept watching for a long time, when the events erupted.
Prior to CNN-IBN, the favorite used to be NDTV. But this time around, due to recent habit, I continued to stay with CNN-IBN.

Till one evening, I turned to NDTV, just to see if they had anything different to offer. And I was amazed. I think NDTV, and especially Barkha Dutt and Sreenivasan, take reporting to a different level altogether. Their coverage was a clear notch above that of CNN-IBN. For one, Barkha manages to cut across layers, and gets interviews and soundbytes, where others are unable to. Secondly, she has amazing energy. She moves from place to place herself, gives a variety of perspectives, get the camera to go to different angles or different views, and in short, unleashes some great reporting for the benefit of viewers. Both she and Sreenivasan have excellent reactions, they gauge the situation well, ensure that politicians do not go into drivel. Besides that, they are also very concerned about the responsibility that they carry as a broadcast medium, and ensure that no randomness is picked up or pushed out through their channel.

In short, they provided some great coverage.

I tried Times Now briefly, and it seemed fine. The clout of the Times group was also enabling them to get some good insights including pictures and video coverage.

The defaulters who ran away with speculative stories, were the usual suspects, viz. India TV and Aaj Tak, although I did not really follow either of them closely. This conclusion is drawn from what others have shared about the two channels.

Its easy to be a great channel, with some principled reporting during normal days. It’s a crisis of this kind that really tests your resolve. I think NDTV sailed through the crisis well.

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