Has anything changed one year after 26/11? Has India learned anything from 26/11? These questions, or questions to that effect, formed the thrust of all the 26/11 coverage on news channels.
One year ago, Pakistani terrorists bombed Mumbai and one year later, news channels are bombing us with their carpet coverage recalling the nightmare. Mumbai 26/11 is coming out of my ears, too, but bear with the channels. The scale of the attacks and the magnitude of the tragedy make such incessant coverage unavoidable.
“Has anything changed after 26/11” is a perfectly legitimate question to ask. The channels would have failed in their duty if they did not raise it. Some of the programming was very good too, which goes to show that if our channels do put their heart and soul into something, they have the capacity to churn out good stuff (though I’m told nothing matched the NatGeo show which, unfortunately, I missed).
But before you begin to wonder if the only change since 26/11 is that I have become a fan of the channels, let me put you at ease. The channel-friendly preamble is a set-up. My purpose is to ask the channels if they should have directed some of the searching questions they have been asking of our politicians inward, at themselves.
Considering the tsunami of public disapproval of the coverage of 26/11 and the assurance National Broadcasters Association (NBA) gave to the Government to reform, behave and be responsible, shouldn’t the channels have asked themselves the same questions: How much have we changed since 26/11? Have we learned anything at all from 26/11?
It is easy to answer the questions raised by the channels. Yes, things have changed since 26/11, at least to some extent. For one, we have a Home Minister after a long time and can feel his presence. And thankfully we don’t even get to know how many times he changes his attire in a day because all white “vaestees” look alike. For another, we have a National Investigation Agency, a pan-India agency to better handle terror cases; we have better intra-agency coordination and intelligence-sharing; we have NSG hubs in more cities for quicker response than on 26/11; and our coastal security has improved, even if just a wee bit.
Either because of these improvements or just by providence, we have not had another attack (God bless India) and most importantly, the enormity of the attack and the debate it generated on internal security, forced our Government to finally take serious note of Naxalism which, by every account, is a much bigger threat to our internal security than cross-border terrorism.
So, you see, the politicians have been quick to respond and show they are accountable. But what about the news channels, which were the second most hated entity after the political class in the aftermath of 26/11? Have they changed at all? The answer to that is also easy. Not one bit. Taken as a whole, leaving out the occasional brilliance of individual channels, they are all just as screechy, preachy, patchy; as breathless, senseless, clueless; and as shallow and hollow as they were on 26/11.
Few channels have moved away from the formula. A single day’s dose of the scary headlines and promos of India TV is as much an assault on our senses as 26/11 – and yet more and more channels are following that route because we, the viewers, want only such tripe! The self-regulation that the channels so promptly announced post 26/11 has turned out to be a big lie, a mere diversionary tactic to get the Government off their backs. They are lucky they have a reasonable I&B Minister in Ambika Soni; if the belligerent Anand Sharma had continued, he would by now have taken over as Editor-in-Chief of the nation.
When they parked themselves outside the trouble spots and shouted at us for 60 hours, all that TV channels did was to expose their own inability to generate in-depth, insightful reportage. Yet, I would be surprised if any channel has invested more money in news-gathering; the chances are that those budgets have only been shaved further.
As journalists and media organisations, I tell you, we have it easy. We get to ask all the tough questions. And answer none.
(The views expressed here are of the author’s and not those of the editors and publisher of exchange4media.com.)