Ranjona Banerji: TV journos must get info first, blame later

18 Dec,2012

By Ranjona Banerji

 

One more terrible school shooting in the US last Friday and the nation must have wanted answers but rather than hysterical screaming – on CNN at least – there was first only reporting on the incident. Somewhere TV journalists in India have to master the art of getting information first and apportioning blame later. Unfortunately, whether it’s a rape or a robbery, the first instinct in India is to jump to whodunit before even figuring out what was done. To be fair, when the Norway blast and killings happened, the venerable BBC made the same mistake. Soon after the incidents were first reported, the channel had experts on air telling us which Islamic terrorist group was responsible. Although it was smeared all over, the channel did not really admit that it had egg on its face when far right extremist Anders Breivik was caught.

 

The difficulties for TV in reporting a live event are obvious. It was clear even from CNN’s reporting that it was making a conscious effort not to intrude on to people’s private grief – lessons learnt presumably after years of being frowned on by an angry audience. What was also evident is the important role played by local cable networks in providing initial reporting inputs. We still operate on a national scale in India although some language channels fulfill the local role.

 

As far as the rest of the world was and is concerned, the America’s reluctance to submit itself to any gun control remains a topic of astonishment and debate in every forum.

 

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In spite of all the predictions gone wrong as far as election opinion polls are concerned in India over the last decade, every TV channel and pollster jumped into the act as voting in the Gujarat assembly elections drew to a close. So depending on who you believe, incumbent chief minister Narendra Modi is going to win by a massive majority to a middling majority to a tiny majority. Talk about covering your bases.

 

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The arrival and subsequent pronouncements of Pakistan’s interior minister Rehman Malik sent Indian television into a tizzy. Why is he here, what is he saying, why is he saying what he’s saying, does he mean what he’s saying, do we know why he’s saying what he’s saying, do we believe what he’s saying, do we want him here at all, what would we eat for breakfast if he wasn’t here and so on.

 

It’s a little early for yearender awards, but the understatement of the year has to go to academic Radha Kumar on I forget which TV channel for informing us that India and Pakistan have had a turbulent relationship for years. What can one say but thank you for enlightening us?

 

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Newspapers come late in Dehra Dun so am looking forward to reading the obituaries of Indian cricket after India lost its first series at home to England after 4000 years. Assuming the world doesn’t end on December 21, I predict that after the One Day series with Pakistan and England, we may be singing a song less like a funeral dirge.

 

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