Ranjona Banerji: TV does right by Baby Mahi!

26 Jun,2012

Ranjona Banerji

By Ranjona Banerji


Let’s cut TV news a little flak. What! Did I really just say that? The story of “baby Mahi” who fell into an abandoned borewell on her birthday last week but could not be rescued for almost five days is a made-for-TV story. Most newspapers would have reduced the story to a brief, if they carried it at all. Human life or in this unfortunate case death means very little in Indian newspapers unless it concerns high net worth individuals or happens in large numbers. Here also the concern is relative: for a Mumbai newspaper a bus that falls into a ravine and kills 50 of a marriage party in Bihar means less than an accident on the Mumbai-Pune expressway which kills 15. Geography and proximity carry more weight than the idea of death itself.


TV news, however, challenges these assumptions made by the print media. While some may find TV’s attention to baby Mahi excessive or indeed point out that people fall into wells all the time, they are missing the point. Newspapers belong to the old, fatalistic India, where you took everything in your stride because life taught you that horrible things happen to everyone and especially to poor people. TV belongs to New India and as we learn every night, India always wants to know.


And some questions, we must admit, need to be answered. There is no reason why people should regularly die because they accidentally fall into wells. There is no reason why we should not insist that safety protocols be put in place to prevent such accidents. There is no reason why local officials are not pulled up for being callous.


Even if the hyperbole and hysteria generated by TV reporters and anchors can be vastly annoying, it does not mean that the reason they are having fits is not genuine. It took every bit of fortitude I could muster at midnight to listen to Arnab Goswami’s impassioned outburst against apathy and indifference (Wimbledon means I cannot get to TV news before midnight, yes I have no life and thank god I don’t watch football!) but behind all the bluster – there was a point.


The trick for TV now is not to let this baby Mahi case turn into a real-life version of Peepli Live. They have to continue with the campaign they have begun so that they do not become as cynical as print journalists. It may be a tall order, but they started it.


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I greatly admire Pakistanis who appear on Indian TV news discussions about terrorism. It takes great courage to withstand all that solid evidence against them and continue selling their government’s line. And they seem to be quite happy to do it. I do not get to watch Pak TV any more so I do not know if Indians appear on panel discussions to get pilloried. Does anyone know?


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Football has taken over our newspapers. It is now emerging as cricket’s biggest competitor. We all know that Indian football does not generate any interest at all (somewhat like Indian hockey) but every FIFA tournament brings the lives of others to a standstill.


The test I suppose is when cricket (with India playing) and football tournaments happen at the same time. Who do you think will win? Or will we then know whether sports pages are just lazy or have some top class brains involved in the planning?


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The Times of India in its little debate section on the edit page has gone for and against on the use of the term “Bollywood”. It’s an old argument and an amusing one. We all know that the term is derogatory and was coined in the 1970s with that in mind. We also know that as long as the Hindi film industry continues to make song and dance potboilers, the term will continue to stick. No one calls Shyam Benegal or his oeuvre “Bollywood” so we all know the difference. TOI could have suggested options like “Goregaon”, since that’s where so many films are made and that’s how Hollywood got its name. Any takers?


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One response to “Ranjona Banerji: TV does right by Baby Mahi!”

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