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Telescope: Desperately seeking viewers

As the Kairana story underlined, TV news does not have the patience to verify

Written by Shailaja Bajpai |
June 16, 2016 12:31:35 am
kairana, kairana exodus, kairana forced migratio, kairana hindu exodus, kairana migartion report, uttar pradesh kairana repirt, centre kairana report, up govt kairana exodus report, uttar pradesh news, india news, latest news Government officials recording vidoe statement of Shrimandar Jain, brother of Narender Jain who shifted 10 years back from Kairana village to Muzaffar Nagar. (Source: Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

Even as we tried to make sense of what prompted a young man, Omar Mateen, who pledged allegiance to ISIS, to shoot dead 49 people and injure over 50 others in Orlando, came news on Tuesday afternoon that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of that very terrorist outfit, had been killed in a US air strike. This news was instantly splashed across TV news screens and remained headline news the next two hours. India Today (4.40 pm) put out a brief history of his career in terrorism and wondered, “ISIS collapse next?”

Switch to Al Jazeera, BBC World, CNN: None of them had what was, if true, arguably the biggest story of the day. Then India Today’s anchor/reporter Gaurav Sawant said er, actually, we don’t know if he is actually dead, “we are still waiting” for confirmation.

That confirmation hadn’t come till Wednesday afternoon.

On Sunday and Monday, the media headlined BJP MP Hukum Singh’s allegation that there had been an “exodus” of Hindu families (346) from Kairana in UP where Muslims outnumber Hindus. Zee News did a lengthy on-the-spot report in which several local people claimed that many and “only Hindu” families had been forced to leave Kairana.

Repeatedly, the reporter asked whether the situation in Kairana was like the one in Kashmir where the minority Kashmiri Pandits had fled, leaving everything behind, to save their lives. Yes, replied those interviewed, just like that. Only a few people demurred.

By Monday, the media had invaded Kairana and were going from door to door to check for the exodus of Hindus. ABP found some Hindus had indeed left but not because of Muslim intimidation. Newspapers, like The Indian Express, and TV found that Singh’s claims of an exodus were highly inflated and in many instances, incorrect.

Whereupon, Hukum Singh, without any remorse for putting out incendiary and highly misleading figures, calmly told anyone who would listen to him (TV news channels) that, er actually, this was not a Hindu-Muslim issue, but one of crime. And he promptly released another list.

In both instances, the stories had run ahead of the facts and made sensational headlines without any verifiable evidence. Whereas quoting what someone says is newsworthy, the nature of news is such in a 24×7 cycle and Twitter-ing world, that the line between what is said and what is fact blurs with every repetition until it is completely erased. 

Worse, the misleading misinformation becomes a nightly circus of opinion as happened in the Kairana episode, reinforcing its perceived “truth”. “Experts” and politicians then argue threadbare — the anchor simply stokes their anger and sits back to enjoy the flaming rows.

Desperately seeking viewers, TV news does not have the patience to observe a fundamental of journalism: Verify, verify, verify. Broadcast and be damned is its motto.

There’s no objective analysis by news channels either. In the aftermath of Mateen’s murderous assault, CNN’s political, strategic and security reporters not only reported — even from the scene of the crime — but also analysed the trickle of information available.

Experts from different fields were called in but the bulk of the assessment was by CNN.

Similarly, after speeches by President Obama, Democratic and Republican presumptive presidential nominees Clinton and Trump on the incident, there was an immediate evaluation by the CNN team of what was said and what was not — often as important. Indian TV news channels rush from one politician to another for a reaction without any mediating perspective of their own. That’s why it’s such a free for all.

Twitter has now become the first opinion resource; TV news, therefore, should move on from soundbytes to analysis.

Did we hear scornful laughter?

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