TV blabbering is not journalism:
Lessons from the live coverage
channel bosses must be patting themselves on the back on their
marathon terror coverage. For three days they had treated
the viewers to live coverage of the multiple terror strikes
in Mumbai. In doing so, they probably set a record in television
the terrorists delivered the heaviest blow yet on the country,
the 24x7 news channels rose to the occasion. They took the
nation's attention off everything else so that it could concentrate
fully on the mayhem in Mumbai. What more could the terrorists
have asked for?
the terrorists operating simultaneously on several fronts,
there was plenty to do and the channels rushed their best
talents and possibly additional equipment to Mumbai to augment
the resources available locally. Cameras were deployed on
all war fronts and they instantly brought into drawing rooms
(or wherever else the TV sets were) the sights and sounds
that they picked up. The reporters kept up an incessant flow
of words, either on their own or in response to questions
posed by anchors sitting in the studios. Their labour earned
handsome rewards in terms of TRP ratings, and that certainly
is reason enough to celebrate.
is not a measure of professional performance. It is, therefore,
to be hoped that when the euphoric mood wears out, the media
bosses will make an effort to objectively assess their performance
in strictly professional terms.
an early stage in the live coverage, the cameras picked up
the image of a gun-wielding young man, warily watching the
surroundings. The reporter and the anchor helpfully informed
the viewers that they did not know whether he was a terrorist
or a commando!
the second day, while all eyes were on the Taj, the Oberoi
and Nariman House, the channels 'broke' news of fresh gunfire
at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, where terrorists had mowed
down scores of passengers the previous day. One anchor, with
his superior knowledge of the topography of Bori Bunder, explained
to viewers that it was an area with many buildings and that
he was not able to state whether the shooting took place in
the rail terminus or some other building near by.
at that point, his channel was scrolling a headline which
said the shooting was on Platform No.8 of CST.
that very point, on another channel, a reporter was informing
viewers that the shooting was on Platforms No. 14 and No.
15, from where long distance trains leave.
in the day the Indian Railways denied there had been any firing
at the station on that day.
the coverage of a running story, unfolding itself simultaneously
at different locations, inaccurate information creeping in
is not entirely unusual. However, in this instance, there
is reason to suspect that reporters, eager to break news,
had gone on air without waiting for confirmation from either
the police or the railways, the two sources that could be
relied upon for information about a shooting incident in a
the third day, as the Taj nightmare was drawing to a close,
the anchor and reporter of a channel were engaged in a heroic
effort to make sense out of sounds emerging from the hotel.
According to the National Security Guard, a lone terrorist
was still holding out inside the hotel at the time. The reporter,
crouching on the ground, drew the viewers' attention to gunfire.
The anchor asked from which floor it was coming. "First
floor," said the reporter. More explosions followed.
When the seventh explosion was reported, the anchor asked
where it was coming from, the same floor or somewhere else.
The reporter said this one appeared to be from the ground
floor. The two then speculated on the possibility of the lone
terrorist moving from one floor to another as though his precise
location was a crucial matter.
the national channels, CNN and BBC also provided extended
live coverage of the terror strike. Since they did not have
their own cameras at the scenes of action, they turned to
the Indian channels for visuals. While the CNN drew visuals
from its local partner CNN-IBN, BBC picked feeds from the
Hindi channels. However, the words the viewers heard were
their own. There was no meaningless chatter by the anchors
and correspondents. There was no speculation either. Instead,
there were reports which bore the imprint of professional
television has opened up new possibilities. The marathon Mumbai
terror coverage has shown that Indian news channels have yet
to learn how to make effective use of the facility that technology
has put at their disposal. They must realize that the media's
job is to gather and disseminate information. Seeing is not
knowing, much less understanding. The sights and sounds the
switched-on camera picks up have to be made intelligible to
the viewers. Blabbering by anchors and reporters, howsoever
entertaining, is not an adequate substitute for professional
Bhaskar is a veteran journalist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)