Moon Mission Coverage: Hashtag Facepalm

23 Jul,2019

The Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, GSLV MkIII-M1 rocket, carrying Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft, lifting off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, in Andhra Pradesh on July 22. Picture source: PIB

 

By Ranjona Banerji

 

My heart bleeds for those who watched news television after the successful launch of Chandrayaan 2 by ISRO, on Monday. The lack of depth in newsrooms was on display in all its glory. It was as if TV journalists had regressed to childhood and were reading from the “1000 words from space travel” some hopeful uncle or aunty had given them as a third birthday present. Although, I’m being unfair to those books. If anyone had really read them, the news commentary would neither have been so ignorant, lacklustre and full of meaningless bluster.

Recapping India’s forays into space, we got half-baked commentary, some like those old Films Division news documentary, praising only the current government (Modi’s name mentioned enough times to make sure that you don’t lose government advertising or panellists) and the rest like the class 3 child who got a D in her project on Moon missions. As many old people pointed out to me, they felt deeply nostalgic about the quality of the Doordarshan commentators of yore.

Considering India has a wide range of qualified talented scientists, couldn’t one of them have been invited to make these presentations to a dimwit public – am guessing that is how TV newsrooms see the rest of us because that is what they give us. India Today TV had an interesting mix of science-y bits. One only focused on Modi’s greatness in getting us to the moon, with a scant reference to Vajpyaee. The other, wonders of wonders, actually mentioned Nehru and Vikram Sarabhai. The number of times “in fact”, “actually” and “of course” were scattered through the script took me back to the early days of news TV in India when in fact, you said of course, actually when in fact you didn’t of course know what actually in fact you wanted to say of course. (Hashtag Facepalm.)

Times Now had people calling in to speak to godman/guru Jaggi Vasudev, because who else would you ask about a mission to the Moon’s South Pole. (Hashtag triple Facepalm.)

Can’t remember which channel, sorry, the perils of surfing, extolled the virtues and prowess of the women scientists in charge of Chandrayaan-2. Inspiring stuff. But just when you got interested in finding out more, you were taken to an old clip of Indira Gandhi and Rakesh Sharma and Ravish Varma. Thanks, but come on!

My two-bit advice: no one does space travel better than Hollywood and American television and I say this as a diehard Doctor Who fan (look it up). Before the mission’s Lander-Rover duo land on the Moon’s South Pole on September 7, watch as many films and serials as you can. There is time. Catch up on the jargon. Practice in front of mirrors. There are old stalwarts like Star Wars and Star Trek. There are blockbusters like Independence Day. There all those Apollo movies. Even the Men in Black series, for goodness sake! Anything! Please! In fact, of course, actually!

An editor friend who watched the launch in “real time” (I only watched the later telecasts at night) regretted that he did not watch it on Doordarshan, so appalled was he at the quality of knowledge in newsrooms: “Either they don’t have science reporters or if they do, they are not good enough.” Damning maybe but from what I saw later in the evening, definitely true!

**

Of course, actually, in fact, I carried an old anger of TV with me while writing this. Watching an NDTV programme on how well TV reporters covered the Kargil war (#facepalm), the anchor then went on to ask foreign tourists in Kashmir if they were frightened for their safety, because did they know there was a war in Kashmir 20 years ago!

Talk about encouraging tourism. But that apart, I wasn’t around, but did a TV reporter wander around London in 1961 asking tourists if they were frightened because there had been a war there 20 years ago?

OMG! OMG! OMG!

What have I done to deserve this? That’s a reference to the Pet Shop Boys. Look it up. Plus the Moon stuff. Please.

 

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She is also Consulting Editor, MxMIndia

 

 

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