Angkor wat

Angkor wat

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The unemotional scales of tragedy

Like everyone else in possession of a television in the last week, my few hours at home were spent in front of it. Even after the essentials are clear, there is a morbid fascination and some feeling of emotional solidarity in seein people being rescued, terror overcome, and hearing more grisly details of just how inhuman only human beings can get. Aside from the unfolding horror- almost movie-like- two ‘unemotional’ if you like, points struck me.

First, and most obvious, the deterioration in journalistic quality. Is it just fervour? Or maybe over enthusiasm to fulfil a necessarily intrusive duty? Personally I have long thought that although the humanities suffer in our country in terms of prestige (oh you’re not doing engineering??!) at least undergraduate education in the arts is very good in a sufficient number of colleges. I know for sure it was in my college, while the biology syllabus, in contrast, was quite a joke. But where does this training translate? Is there a practical difficulty peculiar to studying journalism? Because time and again, and invariably, all our news channels have enquiring journalists who make you want to cringe and shut your eyes every two minutes. They are gutsy and enthusiastic, granted. But their talk-journalistic skills are either lost, or present but abysmal.
Witness journalist A talking to colleagues of Mr Karkare at his funeral. They reply with a ‘Yes, but now we must move on’. A can’t let go, but has to gaze deep and say ‘I can see there’s a lump in your throat’. At a funeral. Are they expected to pass a degree in crass insensitivity? Or take an oath to voice every observation, however irrelevant? This is not even radio for God’s sake, we can SEE!

Journalist B is in Pakistan and supposed to interview someone he can’t immediately establish contact with. So B gives you his personal views. ‘Anyway we all know ISI must be responsible’. ??! Who asked him?! Do they even realize how very irresponsible it is to spout random personal opinions?

The examples are endless, most of all the fact that the interviewers have more opinions and are louder than the interviewed..Please send them back to college..the BASIC tenet of a reporter HAS to be impersonalism. There’s simply no room for personal emotions in what should be unbiased ‘reporting’.

The second point is less serious perhaps..and more widespread- it is a sanctification of all actions of the dead. Until alive, its alright to criticize. Infact its alright to badmouth even. But death is an instant sanctification. Which means poor strategy, unnecessary though of course tragic sacrifices, miscalculations, all are quickly buried in a general funereal hush. Even the media (incredibly) , is uncomfortable saying ‘so and so may have made a mistake’. So be it. Don’t flog the dead. But surely you can flog the strategy?? This kind of misplaced emotional response can hardly be beneficial to anyone. Why do we have so much trouble dissociating person from act, analysis from vilification? The least tentative criticism will draw a ‘How can you criticize a hero? Would you have done what he did’? Is that the point? We all have our places, the issue is not an exchange offer. It is how you can learn to do what you do best, and what better way than to learn from the past? Nobody denies courage or commitment. That’s not the point being debated.
We can only hope that whatever the direct repercussions of this tragedy, and one hopes it will lead to some dawn of humanity, at least such side issues that we CAN tackle will be tackled. Or at least the fact that there is a problem admitted..