By UDAY SHANKAR
I remember an incident almost 10 years ago, that brought home to me the power of the media and its ability to impact people’s lives.
It happened when I was the editor of Aaj Tak in 2001-2002.
India hadn’t seen live or ‘breaking news’ in its true sense until then. The channel had redefined news and TV journalism by taking the viewer to the location. We had introduced a hardcore news bulletin in the morning called ‘Subah Aaj Tak’, and I used to go office very early, at about 3.30am, for an edit meeting for that show.
One day, after I was done with my newsroom work, my secretary Shashi told me that some woman had called me. She was in the ministry of defence, she claimed.
I didn’t pay much attention in the day. Then I got busy and Shashi kept telling me the whole day that the woman had called again and again.
I got annoyed.
Shashi told me that the caller insisted on speaking to the editor of Aaj Tak. Finally, I spoke to her and what she told me that day changed my life forever.
She said, “Mr Uday Shankar, I was a very passionate viewer of Aaj Tak. Until today, it was a part of my life. But today, I want to stop watching the channel”.
It transpired that she that she was a widow and lived in Noida with two young kids. She said she watched Aaj Tak the whole day because it was her source of comfort. As long as Aaj Tak kept reporting that the world was OK, for her the world was OK.
But she was shocked that we had wrongly reported that a Delhi Public School, Noida bus had met with an accident. It was her kids’ school, and she had just put them on the bus. Back home, she had been taking shower when she heard the voice of the reporter announcing the accident.
Utter panic had made her rush out of the house in inappropriate clothing, with water streaming all over her body. She was sure that whatever happiness remained in her life too was in jeopardy. Not for a moment did she doubt that Aaj Tak’s story could be wrong.
It was actually a DPS bus from another part of the city, not Noida, and we immediately apologized for our mistake. But for the five minutes that we ran the story, we never imagined the kind of trauma we had caused. This woman had called to tell me that we had let her down. I apologized that day. She wasn’t angry at all.
All she said was, “From today, your channel is like any other channel.”
I still get goosebumps whenever I recall my conversation with her. It made me realize the intensity of the relationship between media and its consumers/viewers. Since then, whenever I am in doubt, I imagine what this woman would think in the situation – would she be disappointed?
I am grateful to her for giving me such a moral lesson in media, and at every channel that I have worked, I make sure that I never disappoint my viewer.
Photograph: courtesy Indian Television
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