Saturday, 26 December 2009

Media-manufactured Hysteria

Every time I see candlelight vigils for victims of injustice, I wonder how such a disparate group of people comes together. As a nation, we don’t really have a collective soul. Apathy is our first reaction to anything. So how come we turn out in hordes to hold candlelight vigils for Jessica Lal, Meher Bhargava, 26/11 victims. (Not sure if there was one for the Nithari victims, which says a lot about our so-called middle class vigilantes).

I thought the media – especially the electronic media – only disseminated information about the planned event but now am reasonably sure it helps in planning it as well – if not organising it.

The electronic media is setting itself up as the conscience keeper of the nation and the voice of the people. But many of its actions makes one wonder if it has a conscience at all. What it seems to have in the place of conscience is a TRP ticker, which dictates all its actions.

Take the case of candlelight vigils, which first started with the Jessica Lal case (I am not sure if it preceded or followed Rang De Basanti, which also showed a candlelight vigil). That may have been spontaneous but I doubt whether the many others were.

It makes for great visuals – grave faced people sitting with candles under a darkening sky. And it provides great soundbytes. So what if the people ranting in front of television cameras may not know very much about the case or about the law? And then there are the emotional SMS-es scrolling at the bottom of the screen. `Death to Rathore’, went one ridiculous SMS. The sight of a smirking Rathore would make any decent person’s blood boil. But `Death to Rathore’? This, we are told by hyperventilating star anchors of news shows, is a reflection of the people’s anger and distress.

But often this is nothing more than ill-informed hysteria whipped up by the media itself. There are enough examples of how media hype has led to situations escalating out of the control of authorities. Everyone remembers the coverage of the 26/11 attacks but think back to 1999 and the IC 814 hijacking. The relatives of the hostages gathered outside 7 Race Course Road, the television cameras and anchors went crazy getting bytes from them, demanding the government get their relatives out safely. I remember parallels being drawn by emotional relatives with Rubaiya Sayeed (militants were freed to secure the release of this kidnapped daughter of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed) and how that was done because she was a VIP’s daughter. I have no doubt that the hysteria whipped up by the media had some role in the then government’s decision to release the hostages that the hijackers asked for. Should the government have given in to such emotional blackmail is another question. The point here is – should the media have become a tool of emotional blackmail?

The media does have a role in highlighting inadequacies in the system. But this has to be done by well-researched stories, shorn of drama. Not by organising vigils and soliciting angry SMS-es.

1 comment:

  1. Bang On!!! milady.

    The tragedy of electronic media reporting has become such that any damn news is a breaking one and calls for a poll! Hello??

    Poll for what? Whipping up a frenzy and consensus and trying to impose "the channel's unsaid opinion" onto the viewer.

    And even if we really do want to conduct a poll and get the audience opinion, lets not make it a revenue stream rather have a toll free poll than creating a farcical impression of "Desh ki Janta ka faisla"