As the second anniversary of the tragic bombing of World Trade Centre (WTC) approached, there was a flurry of activity in media. The 24 hour news channels were specially active. By now the format has become very familiar. There were shots of the WTC towers tumbling down in heap of rubble, the Jihadi ‘Saint’ Osama Bin Laden fingering a AK-47 rifle and sprouting hate of the infidels and sundry specialists giving their comments on how and why. To be sure, there was also coverage of the grief of the victims and the (usual) complaints of persons who have been cheated our of the compensation. All this was done under the guise of ‘public interest’, though the real motive is to draw viewer-ship and rake in advertising revenues.
It is well understood that publicity is the Oxygen of terrorists. Their choice of targets, timings and methods is dictated by this single overriding consideration of garnering maximum publicity. Choice of a New York landmark for destruction on 11 September 2001 or for that matter the infamous killing of Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics of 1972 as well as the attack on Parliament in December 2001, Akshardham temple and even the recent bomb blasts in Mumbai at the Gate Way of India , prove the point. The media, by hyping the ‘anniversaries’ is playing into the hands of the terrorists. While on the one hand the terrorist cause (?) gets highlighted and on the other hand there is general nervousness and high alerts that cost millions to the public. Surely, even without the media hype, people would remember the event, but there is no need to scratch the public brains. Suggestion to curb this media excess as assault on freedom of speech is a bogus argument. This is akin to accepting that a person has the ‘freedom of speech’ to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded cinema hall! One is reminded of a journalist who during the crucial period of operation ‘Blue Star’ in Amritsar, defied the order of censors and reported the terrible tragedy…..The character even went to jail for this. But in our topsy trurvy world, he today is a “ Defence Specialist’ and would shortly lecture in Pune …… Is this journalistic ethic or treachery ?
The hyping of the events like 9/11 is cruel to the family members of the victim. Just when they are beginning to get on with life, they are reminded, publicly, of their loss. It is bad enough at the level of individuals but what of the society! It is clear that one of the main aims of the terrorists is to create social divisions-the we versus they syndrome. Social divisions thus rather than healing, continue to grow like festering wounds. Indian media, specially the electronic one, main culprits being the 24 hour news channels-has been ahead of the rest of the world. We know have regular hyping of Babri demolition, Parliaments attack, Godhra massacre, Ahmedabad riots, Akshardham temple attack and so on …. One major consequence of this has been that a cycle of action-reaction has been created. Thus the Mumbai bomb blast perpetrators claim that they killing innocent people to take revenge for Ahemdabad killings! The chain of these revenge events in Mumbai that began in December 1992 seems never ending. Unfortunately, even the print media, desperate to compete with the electronic media, has been following suit.
Lest some one feels that I am being unfair to the media, let me give an example form the past- the Gujerath riots of 1969. On 18 September a mob attacked the Jagannath temple in Ahmedabad and killed the temple cows. The retaliatory attacks soon began and engulfed Ahmedabad, Baroda, Mehsana and Nadiad. On 22 September, the mobs even attacked the Sabrmati Ashram of Gandhiji. The riots continued for 8 days and toll at the end was over 1500 killed- a much larger figure than the 2002 riots as the population then was half of what it is today. There were the same accusations of police bias and govt inefficiency.
But the point to note is that there was no action-reaction cycle generated from this major communal holocaust. There were strict curbs on reporting of the riots, for instance the name or community of the victim or perpetrators of violence was never mentioned. The media observed restraint, either voluntarily or due to govt regulation.
Finally, the penchant of Indian electronic media to show ghastly scenes. Here the Western media showed sensitivity and never broadcast pictures of mutilated bodies of victims. The Indian media on the other hand has been ghoulish and insensitive. Don’t the dead deserve some dignity? In the name of transparency one does not make toilets with glass walls!
It is time that issues raised here are debated and media draws up a self restraining code of conduct. The Govt could put reasonable restrictions on coverage of violence ( as exists in UK under anti terrorism law). In India, where we have literally hundreds of festivals the year round and anniversaries to observe….could we be spared the hyping of misery?