It is quite easy to manipulate India’s television news channels, because they are open to being used.
Imagine a criminal telephoning India’s television editors. He tells them of a violent crime he’s about to commit, where his gang intends to harm people. He tells them the location and the time of the crime and asks them to send their crews to cover it. His motive for calling them is publicity. What would the journalists do? Warn the victims and call the police, one would think. And stop it when they saw a crime happening before them.
Here’s what India’s TV editors actually did on January 24. A Hindu group named Shri Ram Sene told the editors they would attack a pub in the southern city of Mangalore, and that they could get the footage. The news channels scrambled their camera crews and went with the attackers.
At the pub, called Amnesia, the men manhandled the youngsters inside. The group said it was doing this because of moral reasons; that going to pubs was not Indian culture. The attack was savage and it was filmed in vivid detail. Girls and boys were slapped about, thrown to the floor, hit on their head, kicked as they fled. Their helplessness and their shock was deeply disturbing. Just as disturbing was the animal frenzy of the men attacking them.
The cowering girls in particular were humiliated as the men hunted them, with the camera crews following the men to get the right angle.
“Like dogs being thrown a bone,” writes Patel, “the television journalists have chased the stories that Muthalik has tossed in the air after that day.”
Now, I don’t really blame a dog for chasing a bone. (Or for being a dog.) The media chases sensational stories, and Muthalik gives them just that, as do the likes of Raj Thackeray. What really gets my goat here is the apathy of the police. If Mangalore’s cops were to beat up Muthalik’s goons just as the goons beat up the girls in the pub, and called the TV channels over to film that, the TV journos would be there as well, tongues hanging out, jostling to get the right frame. If the police arrested Muthalik, the channels would do anything to get footage of the man being taken away in handcuffs. But the problem is that when mobs go on the rampage with political backing, the rule of law ceases to exist. Blaming the media for covering that, then, amounts to shooting the messenger.
But do read Patel’s full piece, he makes some excellent points, and I fully agree with his diagnoses of what ails Indian journalism: “The quality of their journalists” and “internal integrity.” Such it goes.