Will someone please give the media a large magnifying mirror in which we can take a good, long, hard and close look at ourselves?
On Tuesday, after one more child, Aman, died from dengue due to the “apathy and indifference” of hospitals in Delhi, India Today asked in righteous anger: “Will hospitals wake up? Will the government wake up?” Sorely tempted to ask (when) will the media wake up?
Till The Indian Express reported the tragic death of Avinash, 7, and the subsequent suicides of his inconsolable parents on September 12, the Aedes aegypti mosquito may have momentarily buzzed on TV news during daytime news coverage, but it never reached fever pitch on evening primetime. That, as you very well know, was reserved for the Sheena Bora murder case — or political mudslinging.
For the record, the first death of a child from dengue in Delhi was reported in early August. It didn’t get more than a few soundbites, if that, at the time. Now, dengue as spread across the media like the virus it is. Anchors hammer Delhi hospitals for negligence and even as you endorse their criticism, you want to say — hey, spare a few brickbats for yourselves. Before this week, when was the last primetime discussion on dengue or sanitation or power supply or hunger or any other human existential issue?
Once the discussions began, of course, there was no stopping them. There never is. On Tuesday evening, at least nine news channels were looking to find a cure for the hospitals’ callous attitude: how could they turn away a child who was critical? One, News 24, even carried out a sting operation at a hospital.
Unfortunately, they didn’t stop at that. At least some channels began to play doctor.
On Times Now, the super primetime anchor asked the doctor from Aakash Hospital — one of the errant hospitals — if Avinash had been “gasping for breath” when they let him go. He then reeled off the medical consequences of such a condition and asked if the hospital had considered anti-malaria drugs or antibiotics. Not sure the latter works in cases of dengue. Anchors should be anchors and doctors should be doctors and never the twain should switch places.
Ravish on NDTV India took a much simpler route. He walked down the lane where Avinash and his parents had lived and talked of conditions on the ground.
Meanwhile, during an IBN-7 discussion, man insults woman, woman slaps man, man slaps her in return, they brawl until an arm reaches out and yanks the man away. IBN-7 apologised for the behaviour of its guests and then promptly, on Monday, discussed their conduct. Isn’t that just like television news: first, it allows people licence to say whatever they like until they come to blows, and then it discusses the incident! The “you-slap-my-face-I-slap-yours” on Sunday didn’t come as a surprise though — it’s just the logical conclusion of all that passes for news and debate.
IBN-7, however, deserves compliments for the manner in which it conducted a debate on Tuesday. It had six guests and each was restricted to an opening statement of 60 seconds. To ensure compliance, there was a buzzer and clock counting down the seconds. Time up and the guest was cut off mid-sentence — on to the next speaker. All channels should enforce this time limit — for anchors, too.
Finally, Bihar is in the news, we have opinion polls galore — the most recent this week on ABP says it is neck-and-neck between Narendra Modi and the Grand Alliance. Meanwhile, India Today-Aaj Tak hosted Bihar leaders like Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad — and if you haven’t seen the latter’s imitation of Modiji, you must.