People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 49

December 14, 2008


It’s Too Much, Enough is Enough!

Avik Dutta

AFTER seven days of the terrorist attack on Mumbai, a poster has shot up on a television screen. ‘Enough is enough, Go for war’—the poster screams, which was raised bluntly by a Mumbaiker posing boldly before the full glare of a bunch of TV cameras. Through them this message was being disseminated down to crores of viewers, sitting in the remotest corners of this country. Just three days following the incident, it was the electronic media which first coined the phrase ‘Enough is enough’. Four days later, a new slogan “Go for War” was conceived- again the credit for which goes to the electronic media. This action-slogan has added an entirely new dimension to the whole episode.

It’s true that the recent Mumbai man-hunt by the terrorists has shaken badly our sensibilities and the heinous crime has made all of us extremely tensed. Many of us are equally concerned with the way national security has been challenged. While it can easily be said that the media has every right to criticise the centre and the state government for security lapses, but unavoidable is the question of whether the war is the only option to combat the curse of terrorism.

Nobody is objecting to the dissection of the role of the administrators, politicians and the ministers for any failure on their part, but how can the media bosses dare to put forward a preposterous proposition of declaring a war to resolve the danger of terrorism. How can this war achieve anything tangible under these circumstances? The history has proved it time and again. How long will the media continue to play with the sentiments of the common people for their parochial purpose of maximising pecuniary profit? Will propagating the message of war across the country help them anyway? Any war between the two countries will only disrupt normal lives on both sides of the border.

Even, media’s freedom is robbed of during the war-time emergency in each and every country. Then who will benefit by creating a pro-war media-hype? Isn’t it an invitation to a disaster to tackle another national disaster? I don’t know how the media will benefit from the provocation of war. One should think over the TV live coverage of the incidents for eight long hours before they had started beaming the war-cry. What were the items they covered? What was left out?

A Sixty-hour episode

The Mumbai attack - an ordeal of sixty hours at a stretch - firing by terrorists -grenades hurled - operation by the commandos - attack and retaliation - a suffocating situation - blood-dripped railway stations, hotels and asphalt streets -scattered corpses - commoners’ agonies- death of the officers of our police and commando forces - all these were continuously beamed live on the television screens. For four days at a stretch, the print media too flashed—Mumbai Attacked-Mumbai Freed! Even who are not regular viewers were glued to TV sets 24X7 during the period.

Our country has been witness to many terrorist attacks. Many innocent lives were lost to the terrorists during the last few months - notable being the incidents of bomb blasts in Jaipur, Hyderabad, Delhi, Guwahati, where countless people were killed. But the terrorists have changed their tactics this time. We had no experience of what had happened in Mumbai. For the first time in Indian media history we saw a terrorist attack of this magnitude where hostages were taken, they were gunned down – blasts- all those were beyond our experience. The media also never got such a chance of live coverage of a terrorist attack on Indian soil.

During those sixty hours we watched a new type of media activism. We experienced a senseless TRP-driven competition of ‘exclusives’ and ‘breaking news’ when the terrorists were playing with dead bodies!

Media made us feel that it is not the railway stations, but the Taj Hotel that symbolise the city of Mumbai. We realised that the death of the people who belong to the elite groups is more important that of an ‘ordinary’ person. We were made to believe that in a poverty-stricken country of over a 100 crore people the palatial structures of the Mumbai are the icons of India. Can the hotels of Mumbai like Taj and Oberoi be the icons of the real India? How can the media forget about the Chatrapati Shivaji Railway Terminus, earlier known as Victoria Terminus or Bombay VT which is an old heritage structure of 131 years? You can reach this station from any part of the country. On that fateful night also the station was as usual full of passengers. The indiscriminate terrorist firing took the lives of many ordinary passengers. The platforms and the waiting halls there bore a gory sight; with a platter of dead bodies and sipping blood-almost everywhere. Only two days after the attack a channel gave us the glimpse of that footage that too only for a second. This footage later vanished from the screen not to be shown again on that channel. The elitist structures like the Taj, Oberoi and at times,the Nariman House were continuously beamed live for hours. The killing of the commoners in the Mumbai railway station has hardly any news value to the media as because they don’t have any Pan card or driving license. It is really a pity, that even the so called media heavy weights did not even for a while take note of the fact that many from cities as different as Lucknow, Chennai, Kolkata, Patna and Delhi had set their feet first in Mumbai only in this station. Later after many years only they had gained their identity as Mumbaikers. The TV channels did not give due importance to the VT terminus mayhem. Then what moral right do they have to telecast the protest demonstration of the common Mumbaikers against the terrorist attacks? Did we ever see television footage of the dead bodies lined up in the J J Hospital of Mumbai? Isn’t it true that all the famous TV anchors were busy with airing the footages of dead bodies of the celebrities at the Taj and Oberoi only? The irony was that the TV cameras and the OB Vans could not leave the Taj and the Nariman Point areas. Even the complete closure of Mumbai’s lifeline, the BEST bus services and its famous railway system did not get required media attention.

However, shortly, a TV started beaming the slogan “Enough is Enough, India’s 9/11’. Then a conspicuous value addition by a poster—‘Enough is enough, Go for war.’ The media is now accusing the politicians, for indulging in petty quarrels amongst themselves in these trying times. The media may be correct on this point. But what about the media role? Why are there so much of claims and counter claims of ‘breaking’ news just in business interest. Why they, the TV anchors and reporters repeatedly tried to woe the audience to watch their channel only? The point is that if they do it for petty commercial reasons, then do they have any moral right to accuse others of garnering political profit?

I should also draw your attention to what great BBC did during the Mumbai attacks. During the attack on London Tube Rail the so called independent BBC did not fail to label the attackers as “terrorists’. But for the Mumbai Attack, the BBC was liberal enough! To them, the terrorists in Mumbai were just the ‘gunmen’. Why such discrimination?

The long coverage of the incident by the television channels resulted in ever increasing agony and anxiety in the minds of the citizens. They too became unsure about their own security and this mental agony of the commoners has been skillfully used by the media to condemn anything and everything. They blamed all the political parties of our country, all the politicians. They lambasted the government, the security agencies.

It is strange that a gruesome attack by the terrorists for sixty hours at a stretch helped the media to draw the conclusion that the politicians are useless elements of the society. So the media took a decision of their own to do whatever they desire. Perhaps they forgot that they were helping only the purpose of the terrorists inadvertently. The TV channel bosses were quite aware that the live coverage of any terrorist strike comes to the aid of the terrorists. From the TV coverage itself the terrorists can get a chance to locate the exact position of the security personnel or can even collect strategic information like whether the commando’s are wearing bulletproof vests or not.

It took sixty hours to tackle the gravity of the situation. Nine terrorists were killed. But under attack is also the world’s largest democratic set up. And knowingly or unknowingly, the attack this time has come from the media, one of the pillars of democracy itself. May I put up a simple question to those theorists – ‘If the democratic system is threatened, would you find any escape route for yourselves?’ In many of our neighbouring countries, the governments are run by the army, directly or indirectly. Does such a regime guarantee any freedom for media? Being a media person I feel bad to criticize the media. But I do not have any other option but to do it in the larger interest of the society.

Shouldn’t media carry out extensive soul searching on their part? Responsibility, independence, objectivity – many a time these words are used by the professional journalists. It is the media which often brings out many important news items in the interest of the common citizens. This time also we came know about some important information, which could be used to counter the communal forces. But these are only a few exceptions. Under no circumstances the media should try to emulate the action-packed Bollywood thrillers. The Bollywood directors now can look for newer plots from the near-ravaged hotels of Mumbai. But a public display of anxiety and emotions on the part of a news channel anchors is a clear deviation of journalistic ethics.

Sometimes, it seems that even a war is also an item for entertainment to the TV channels—part of their show business. Starting from the Gulf war to the Iraq War, the wars were packaged like the mega serials. Even the glimpses of the reality are presented in a more theatrical manner than soap operas. Even if we consider this to be the journalistic reality in these age of globalisation, but still can anybody guarantee that this game of self immolation wouldn’t hurt the media in the near future? Won’t the grenades of allegations be self-destructive in the long run?

The slogan of the war cry and the anxiety for elites reminds me of the much acclaimed lines of the German poet Pastor Neioeller,

First they came for the Jews

And I didn’t speak out

Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for the Communists

Then I didn’t speak out

Because I was not a communist

Then they came for the Catholics

And I did not speak out

Because I was not a catholic

Then they came for me

And there was no one left

To speak out for me.’

It’s better to address the media in the language of media itself - ‘Enough is enough’!