For once, I am glad about our media

Over the last week or so, I have been pleased to see the outcome of the Indian media’s relentless coverage of the terrorist attack and its aftermath. First, we got a blow-by-blow account of events as they unfolded in Mumbai. Those 3 days of live TV have made sure that 26/11 will remain seared into the minds of millions of Indians. And even as the siege drew to a close, they quickly sensed an undercurrent against the political class and capitalized on it. India’s federalized structure and big bureaucracy offers numerous scapegoats in the event of any catastrophe. So promptly we got rid of a CM. It was also hilarious to watch again and again how the CM of Kerala was rebuffed by the father of a commando who lost his life. Meanwhile, the police and intelligence agencies furiously tried to blame each other, caught off guard by aggressive media. So some heads will roll there too.

Then, TV channels cleverly introspected on the media coverage itself! And currently, the rage is all the citizens’ protests across the country. In Bombay, many who’d gathered at Gateway Of India got to speak on national TV. Anchors always praise the role of the Web and mobiles in organizing these. They manage to find some blogger, or Orkutter or something and get him to talk about it. IBN is seeking action plans on its website and will submit the best suggestions to government as a Citizen’s Charter. In the evening, SRK was being interviewed. Currently, Preity Zinta and Raveena Tandon are having a go at the issue. Can Tendulkar be far behind?

Not since the reservations debacle has the young urban Indian been so anti-establishmentarian about anything. And the English news channels have been quick to soothe their core demographic.

I believe that almost everything that’s happened is largely symbolic. No amount of changing CM’s and heads of agencies can curb terrorism. But the cathartic impact on the psyche of the nation shouldn’t be underestimated. If the government creates a new federal agency, we will have more people to rotate (god forbid) next time. And a mayor for Mumbai would have ensured even the CM’s safety.

Now, just imagine for a second if there was no institutional or media space for so much drama. Imagine if the media hadn’t egged on the people to vent all their emotions against the political class. And imagine if our political leaders had felt that the people are on their side but still demand some action. What would have happened? Instead of going on the back foot, they’d have aggressively focussed all attention on our old enemy: Pakistan

Even now, the Indian government is attempting the really hard task of getting at the Pak military/ISI without losing the goodwill of their nascent Parliament and frightened civil society. Pakistani commentators might be carping about the biases of Indian media, but we here know how much they owe them.

For once I am honestly grateful to Barkha Dutt, Arnab Goswami, Rajdeep Sardesai, Saagarika Ghosh and all the rest (regional media too). Now let’s hope they have the guts to stand up against our government if they start beating the drums of war. That will leave CNN and BBC in a comparative dustbin.

Our ex-Finance Minister Chidambaram remarked that the attack was a threat to the “idea of India” itself. But at times like these I worry that an idea of India as a monolithic political entity will strengthen, having New Delhi as the main power centre and an enemy we can all unite against.

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2 Responses to For once, I am glad about our media

  1. hyperbrain says:

    Actually, it looks like the government is trying to do its best (worst!) – Found this in Mint today.

    I agree that some of the media have been keeping the government on its toes. But some of them have been insane too – Barkha Dutt and Rajdeep Sardesai are cases in point. While I think that it’s probably a good thing that our news channels aren’t trying to be “balanced”, taking a side doesn’t mean you start screaming at the top of your voice and sensationalizing a story. In fact, today they’re talking about the people’s anger against the government, but in a week, or two, I suspect they’ll be the ones beating the war drum, louder than the government wants.

    At the end of the day, the question is this – will we, the urban citizens, be forced to finally, finally, engage with the government, forcing the policies to change and services to be improved? This is a very interesting time – the coming Lok Sabha elections will be the first with the redrawn electoral constituencies, with urban areas getting a larger weight in the distribution of seats. It should be an election to watch with close interest.

  2. hyperbrain says:

    I believe that almost everything that’s happened is largely symbolic. No amount of changing CM’s and heads of agencies can curb terrorism. But the cathartic impact on the psyche of the nation shouldn’t be underestimated.
    Hehe…I missed this one on the first pass. The Economist has something similar to say –

    “DAYS after Indian commandos rescued Mumbai, the country’s commercial capital, from a 60-hour terrorist ordeal, crowds continue to gather around the century-old Taj Mahal hotel, where the last of the ten gunmen were killed. Hawkers offer the consolations of kulfi, a kind of ice-cream, to families who pose for photographs in front of the charred structure…..The sacking of these figures will not make India much safer. But it will bring some consolation—the political equivalent of eating kulfi in front of the Taj.” Heh, pithy and true.

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