Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Great Indian Tragedy

As I write this, there's a great debate going on on 'Times Now' where panelists Farooq Sheikh, Shefali Chaya and Suhel Seth (their combined enthusiasm is bordering on hostility) are sharing tremendous gyan on everything starting from the unpreparedness of the police to the cliched-to-death Spirit of Mumbai.

I don't want to tear into News channels two posts in a row because I honestly believe that some of the reporting in the last 2 days has been really commendable - One cameraman was shot at directly, the bullet barely missed him and hit the guy next to him flush on the chest, but he ducked down only for a second before getting up to get a shot of the fleeing car.
But the key word there is 'some'. Because the majority of the coverage of the events in Mumbai have been sensationalist first, informative next and sadly, responsible last.

How can you call it responsible reporting if every step of a serious Army operation is being reported live on television?
Breaking News: NSG moving into Trident Complex.
Breaking News: Army combing the 4th floor in the Taj.
Breaking News: Blasts on the 6th Floor... We're seeing some movement there. As you can see, Armed forces are moving up.. they are now on the 7th floor.
Breaking News: Snipers deployed in the building adjacent to Nariman house.

For a common man like me or you, what good can possibly come from knowing all these steps, apart from being able to watch a few minutes of cinema-esque drama? Do we need this to satiate our hunger for realism?

What about the loved ones of people trapped in these buildings, you say?
Well, if my loved one was trapped hostage by terrorists, the only time I'd watch News is when I need some emergency contact information.

On the other hand, all this could be momentary gold for certain men with SatPhones on the other side of the border.
I'm not prepared to believe for one second that the media houses are ignorant of this. Well, if it isn't ignorance, what is it then? Indifference? Or Blind Competitiveness?
How can these ultra-aggressive news anchors ask politicians for accountability when they themselves lack it?

Speaking of politicians, I was initially surprised to see BJP showing some class by not blaming everybody on earth for these attacks, but just providing quiet support. It was short-lived though. Advani blamed Intel failure as soon as he landed in Mumbai.

But he wasn't entirely wrong. Intel failure is often portrayed as the first culprit for any terrorist attack, but yet it keeps happening. The fact that 6-8 men came into Mumbai on a speed boat, each with a rucksack, and they didn't show up on anybody's radar is just staggering. Plain Staggering.
The use of a boat possibly means that these people came directly from outside the border. I just pray to god that that is not the case, because if it is, it shows our border security in an unimaginably poor light. And how on earth did they carry all those weapons into these buildings without anyone noticing?? 5 star hotels are supposed to have some decent security, right?
How can people sleep at night knowing there's a free entry for terrorists into pretty much any damn place they like?

To his credit, Farooq Sheikh did make one very good point about the unpreparedness of the police in this situation. Early morning footage (before the army took over the whole thing) showed ATS officers and Mumbai Police Officers preparing to enter the Taj Hotel. The thing that struck me and was so apparent to me (and I'm sure to anybody who watched it) was their attire. Some of the police officers were shown even without a bullet-proof vest.
I'm sorry, but is this how some of the bravest officers available are sent to tackle terrorists carrying automatic weapons? Who takes these calls? How come a common man like me is able to notice that and people calling the shots aren't? Did they underestimate the resistance of the terrorists? I just don't understand this. What's there to underestimate?
Highly motivated terrorists + Automatic Weapons + Lots of Ammunition + Grenades + So many Unknowns (no. of terrorists, hostages, locations) = Serious Situation, which needs Serious Co-ordinated Action. Shouldn't Serious begin with appropriate combat gear at least?
On the other hand, once the Army took over, we hardly heard of any casualties from their side.

These policemen died fighting terror, but they shouldn't have. Imagine how lethal they could've been with proper preparedness. You could've been talking to them as you praise them, instead of showing file photos of them. Sad Sad day indeed.

And what's with this obsession that the News Channels (all of them) have with the Number of Deaths? They ask this question to every single person they interview. Every channel shows a different number and it keeps changing every 5 minutes. There seems to be some sort of disturbing competition among them to report the highest number, fastest.
Again, I beg to know, what's the use? How will it make a difference to the people watching if you say 100 died or 110 died if you do not disclose the correct identities of the deceased? Somebody please explain this to me.
Most of the times, these numbers don't hold up for more than 5-10 minutes. Sample this: One channel reported last night that more than 900 were injured. I woke up this morning and the number was down to 290.
This is just some sick sensationalist obsession. Again, no one is accountable.

I'd written after the Bangalore blasts that there is no end in sight for terrorism in India, and I have no option but to repeat myself. A former chief of RAW told a news channel that 'Terrorism is something that no one can ever stop, because of the very nature of Terrorism'.
I found that quite interesting, although his point could be argued against with the example of US and UK who have practically eliminated terror threats to their countries since the last major attack.
But then again, they don't have the haven of radical Islam as their neighbor.

The Mumbai terror attacks have just hammered home the by now established fact for Modern Indians:

No one is safe.


I Witness said...

Dear AB,

Very valid points, in fact I share your view on the media, though there is some good reporting happening most of it seems to be TRP driven... while the channels ask for politicians across the spectrum to unite in this hour of tragedy... most of them seem to be competing hard with each other to prove themselves as a better (faster??) channel ... with all those talks that goes like ... you are seeing this for the first time on XYZ ... remember these are exclusive images thats only available on ABC....

Sukla M C said...

Totally agree with you . . .

One reason I prefer BBC

(btw it is the same with Channels everywhere i guess, had noticed the same with CNN during 9/11)

Potter said...

The part of the reason we are not safe today is that over the years we have acquired a laid back attitude about our own country. We have gradually become irresponsible, cynical and corrupt - just to name a few. Thanks to our politicians for making us so. But before that, thanks to us for repeatedly making wrong electoral choices, term after term. And finally, thanks to ppl like me who hardly bother to vote at all.