BASUDEV MAHAPATRA writes from Bhubaneshwar: The manner in which AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi’s statement on stopping terror attacks before they occur was reported by TV journalists last week, and the way it was presented by news channels, hardly fulfilled any purpose of journalism.
On the contrary, it exposed news television’s passion for tabloid journalism.
As someone who was present at the Rahul Gandhi press meet where he made the statement attributed to him, I was shocked at how the statement was first reported by news channels, and even more shocked that no news channel tried to convey the true sentiment of the statement.
With one channel sparking the controversy by manipulating the statement, every other channel just wanted to do the same to steal the show. On some channels, the statement was spliced into pieces and carried one after another in different bulletins through the day.
Soon after Rahul’s session with media representatives in Bhubaneswar was over, the first piece of his statement that appeared on some news channels was:
“…terrorism is something that is impossible to stop.”
I, being the representative of a 24X7 Hindi news channel, was immediately asked by my desk whether Rahul Gandhi had made such a statement.
My reply was obviously, ‘No’.
Even though I tried to clarify saying, “Rahul never said that, but what he meant was that it’s not possible always to stop a terror attack before it happens”, I felt I was not believed to be telling the truth. However, I maintained my stand in the live “phono” I was asked to give instantly.
I soon crosschecked the the video of the Rahul’s session with media and found that the piece carried by some channels was an engineered one and unfaithful to what Rahul Gandhi meant.
Here’s what happened: replying to a question on whether terror attacks could be stopped before they happen (the question came after Rahul had broached the issue of corruption and insisted that strong measures should be initiated to stop corruption before it takes place), Rahul said:
“It’s very difficult to stop every single terrorist attack. The steps that have been taken by our government over the last couple of years are quite profound steps – the improvement in our intelligence, the way we did about fighting terrorism, the ideas that we have to fight terrorism at the local level, we have improved in lips and mouth.
“But terrorism is something that is impossible to stop all the time.
“There is an attack on Bombay that has taken place. But you will not have heard of all the attacks that will be stopped. So, it is something that we will fight, it is something that we will defeat, and it is something that we work towards. But, it is very very difficult to stop every single attack.”
Further to clarify, Rahul said that he didn’t mean it impossible but difficult to stop.
The complete statement hardly found a space in any of the bulletins of the TV channels. But the piece that was used in bulletins did plenty to negate the true intent of the statement, which I found was completely a wrong way of using anybody’s statement and an unethical practice of journalism as well.
While the whole statement in its complete form was never shown, reactions on the manipulated piece were taken from leaders of different parties to create a political controversy and add more life to the news item.
We may edit or engineer somebody’s statement or sound bite in order to make it fit to our space or time. But, in every case, as a display of the journalist’s obligation to the truth, the intent of the statement must be intact and clear from the part that is used.
This very first principle of a journalist was openly sacrificed by most TV news channels just to make a sensational item out of a portion of the statement.
Such a practice will never help in creating a healthy environment for the media to grow and exercise its freedom. It may bring some instant TRPs and momentary business but, on the other hand, it may also increase the risk of losing the credibility and trust of the general public permanently.