Vivid: Public memory and the media

Media needs to view events with an analytical mindset, connecting the dots with lessons of history & day-to-day facts, says Annurag Batra of exchange4media

e4m by Annurag Batra
Updated: Jun 10, 2013 8:49 PM
Vivid: Public memory and the media

Public memory is proverbially short. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the media to see to it that the public is constantly reminded in the proper context, even if it is to educate the upcoming generation. History repeats itself. But do the perpetrators ever learn? The media provides the documentation. Let us take glimpses, in the present context, of screaming headlines and go back to four long lost ‘deadlines’, which once used to be headlines.

Match fixing: It is the cause of much excitement and heartburn among the contemporary news-hungry public. It is obvious that the present day crop of punters, bookies, rookies, players and their cronies have not remembered at all or not learnt their lessons from the past – the recent past – hardly a decade.

Indian cricket captain of 1996 was tainted with the same charges that the presently accused players and their cohorts are. That tainted captain, who led the Indian team, was none other than Mohammad Azharuddin, and who was lucky enough to escape arrest and consequent prosecution. Azhar had claimed that he was being targeted because he was from a minority community. That was emotional blackmail. He got away with it. The BCCI had imposed a life ban on Azhar from cricket. The ban was later found illegal by the Andhra Pradesh High Court. The BCCI lifted the ban in 2006 and even went to the extent of honouring him, along with other players, at a ceremony in Mumbai during the 2006 ICC Champions Trophy. He is now an elected Member of the Lok Sabha from Moradabad constituency of Uttar Pradesh. He had admitted to fixing three ODI matches.

AMRI Hospital inferno: Another subject which caused much excitement at the time of occurrence, but is forgotten now is the recurring incidence of fire! Now the public has forgotten the dreaded fire at Kolkata’s AMRI Hospital, and even those who remember, cannot recall the deeds or the year in which the incident took place.

Let us take a look back at the day at the time without mentioning the date. According to eye-witnesses, it was reported that around 3:30AM smoke was seen coming out of the basement of the hospital building. The fire soon spread to other floors of the hospital, which resulted in the suffocation of patients. At 5AM the fire brigade reached the hospital. The hospital authority said that some of the patients were shifted to other units of the hospital at Salt Lake. According to the hospital spokesperson, there were 160 patients at the time of the incident, of which around 50 were in the ICU. By noon, the death tally reached 55. Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister, had initially put the tally at 61.

The state police filed an FIR against the hospital and had its license revoked; the fire department lodged an FIR against the hospital for inadequate fire preventive measures. With it being discovered that the medical waste and chemicals kept in the basement caused the fire, the state government announced two committees to probe fire plans in other parts of the city.

The fire was due to alleged negligence, which caused flammable substances kept in the basement of the building to catch fire after a short circuit in the electrical system. It is reported that 95 people, including members of the staff, died due to asphyxiation. Six board members of the hospital have been arrested on the charges of alleged culpable homicide. The license of the hospital was revoked after the incident.

The AMRI directors were taken into police custody on December 20, during which the fire department found them guilty of negligence. The then Finance Minister of India, Pranab Mukherjee visited the SSKM hospital on the night of the incident. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered condolences to the victim's families and announced compensation of Rs 2 lakh to the kin. On the 12th of December, the Chief Minister took part in a candle light march including people from all religions and communities. She said that 56 people, which helped the hospital staff and saved people, would be honoured at the Police ceremony. She also promised a government job to each of the victim's family.

Bhopal gas tragedy: The house collapse in Dhaka this year was the only comparable industrial accident with that of the Bhopal gas tragedy. Yet the media failed to make comparison with the detail.

The Bhopal gas tragedy was a gas leak incident in India, considered the world's worst industrial disaster. It took place on the intervening night of December 2 & 3, 1984 at the Union Carbide India pesticide plant in Bhopal. More than five lakh people were exposed to toxic gas and chemicals. Hundreds of people lost their lives. Civil and criminal cases are still pending in courts.

None of the accused in the criminal cases have been punishment yet. The victims were paid only a pittance of money as solace. That is the greater tragedy.

Telgi scam: Another subject which the public seems to have totally forgotten in these days of telecom and sports scams. Do you remember the forged stamp paper  scam ? Let us take a look at information in the public domain:

The tentacles of the fake stamp and stamp paper scam, better known as the Telgi scam, has penetrated 12 states and is estimated at a whopping Rs 20,000 crore plus. Between 1992 and 2002, 12 cases were registered against Telgi relating to counterfeit stamps in Maharashtra alone and 15 cases in other parts of the country, but the lack of serious action suggests that the scamster had mastered the technique of corrupting the system. He was sentenced to 10 years of jail term in 2006.

The media only needs to view at events with an analytical mindset connecting the dots to build the complete picture with the lessons of history and the day-to-day facts. The media needs to constantly keep reminding its readers and audiences of the incidents which once used to hog headlines. Is the press listening?

There is no refuge from memory and remorse in this world. The spirits of our foolish deeds haunt us, with or without repentance – Gilbert Parker. 

Annurag Batra is Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, exchang4media Group

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