Don’t play the music

Disaster coverage,as from Uttarakhand,is heartrending. It could do without the sound effects

Written by Shailaja Bajpai | Published: June 27, 2013 5:24 am

Disaster coverage,as from Uttarakhand,is heartrending. It could do without the sound effects

For once,it didn’t matter that the TV anchors were trying to pick a fight about something : was the Himalayan Tsunami (CNN-IBN) a man-made blunder of gigantic proportions or was it an irresistible force of nature? Was Narendra Modi playing a disastrous game of politics by visiting the areas devastated by the floods or had Rahul Gandhi missed a trick or two by visiting them too late? For once,you weren’t listening to these contrived “fights” — they,like so much else,had been swept aside by the fury of the water. Instead,you listened to the voices of the people stranded in Uttarakhand — what you heard was enough to make you press the mute button and observe two-minutes of silence. Scores of TV crews from all the news channels scaled hills and mountains,climbed into army choppers,waded through the floods to report the devastation. Out of breath and breathless at what they saw,they interviewed survivors,shattered fragile people with pitiful stories,speaking in strangled voices choked with tears: Shashikant Patate’s family was stranded in a jungle and last heard from a week earlier (CNN-IBN); Radhey Shyam had lost his wife and daughter-in-law (NDTV 24×7); Lata survived on channas for seven days but saw many others who had died (India TV); Brij Mohan,over 80 years old from Ghaziabad,made it home but now lies in bed,mourning his two lost friends (News 24); Chanchal travelled with his brothers,their wives and children — only Chanchal has lived to tell the tale (ABP).

Every day,new voices,the same story: people bemoaning their human condition,criticising the governments,crying for help and out of helplessness. Again and again,we were shown visuals of the floods,the rivers’ destructive spate,the buildings collapsing like powder puffs,entire villages flattened. TV news was as unsparing as the river had been: “32,000 stranded people to be saved in 24 hours” announced News 24 on Saturday evening. Since then,the numbers of those still to be rescued,those who have died,ebb and flow with the waters. The conflicting figures cause confusion: the Uttarakhand chief minister underscores the numbers,the survivors,like Lata,say many,many people died. Every TV crew that could get onto a chopper was flying over the worst affected areas and bringing us heartrending accounts. You wondered if they were taking up too much valuable space in the helicopters,just like the politicians they accused of hampering the relief efforts — hadn’t they heard of news pools? Why doesn’t the Indian media come together in such moments and share resources? The impact of the ceaseless coverage on those waiting for someone to return home is worrying. What must it be like to watch the news,not knowing if family members or friends are dead,alive,and,if alive,lost or found? The only uplifting news has been of the effort and courage of the armed forces. They brought sanity and order to the ordeal. And we saw their heroics,applauded,felt reassured. Television news coverage of their herculean efforts only reinforced our faith in them as the only agency that seems to work in the country. But we could do without the music. Not quite sure what purpose it serves to have a sorrowful musical accompaniment to the wailing of bereaved human beings or the angry tsunami. Why orchestrate the sad music of humanity?

It rained in Birmingham too,but we were spared the violins or trumpets when play started in the Champions Trophy final between England and Pakistan. Those of us who managed to stay awake saw India wade into England’s lower order and emerge winners — good to see Shikhar Dhawan publicly condole the Uttarakhand floods — so there was something to cheer about momentarily especially as the IPL fixing has disappeared from the news like the missing people in Uttarakhand.

Nitish Kumar gave interviews to all-comers last week. Saw him on Times Now,CNN-IBN and NDTV 24×7. Times Now and CNN-IBN claimed to have got the first interview with him (perhaps the third did too?) after the JD (U) parted waves,sorry,ways with the BJP. This is the second great Indian television trick: the first is when guests appear simultaneously on different channels “live”. What will be the third? Watch this space.

shailaja.bajpai@expressindia.com

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