Saturday, January 1, 2005

Sight & Sound
Waves of horrorAmita Malik

One thing one can say about TV is that it brings momentous events, both happy and tragic, right into our homes. If we watched the first Gulf War, more independently reported by CNN than the second one, it brought the war right into our homes, giving us a ringside seat. And now we have had the terrible Tsunami tragedy, in its full horrific detail, entering right into our homes. It has created national anxiety and a sense of kinship on the part of the whole of India. This is not something which happens to other people in the faraway South or the remote Port Blair or Car Nicobar. You had the entire IAF station with the families of personnel lost in the ocean forever. And we saw the survivors narrating their shattering experiences. No still photograph, however brilliant, seen in newspapers could match the immediacy and gripping quality of live TV.

While every channel did its best to cover the tragedy with professional risk and skill, each channel had something special to offer. On this occasion I salute CNN as the only channel which showed us actuality footage of the high killer waves coming ruthlessly at the hapless victims. It is the only channel I watched which had obtained footage of this awesome killer wave taken by tourists in Thailand and elsewhere. Nothing could have matched this sight of reality to bring the tragedy right into our homes and into our lives.

Most channels did a splendid job of covering the aftermath, the devastation, the shattering of human lives without warning, the grieving father or mother holding the body of a little child, or searching in vain for lost family members. Deepak Chaurasia and Vishnu Som from Car Nicobar, Barkha Dutt from Tamil Nadu with ace cameraperson Ajmal Jami and Aaj Tak giving the first coverage from the air, they all did their personal and professional best: Indian TV proved its maturity and social responsibility.

Of individual touches, NDTV carried written appeals from friends and relatives constantly on its channel space. Thanks to this, anxious friends and relatives of the school children from Jamshedpur holidaying in the Andamans were able to locate them and get an assurance that they were safe. There was also news of those who survived to tell their relatives on screen that they were safe. These are essential time-saving community services which only TV or radio can provide quickly and the response from our channels was nothing short of splendid.

Those at the studio end were rather less tactful or professional. One women newscaster on Aaj Tak got emotional and out of breath, which is not correct in a newscaster. One of the worst newscasters was Jyotsna Mohan from NDTV. She read the news in her usual monotone in a weak, nasal voice, with no knowledge of what she was reading. She spoke in the same taanpura monotone, whether it was Bangladesh losing to India at Dhaka or some poor fisherman mourning his dead child in Chennai. I suspect that Jyotsna does not realise that most of the time, particularly when she goes too fast with that expressionless and punctuation-less monotone, viewers simply cannot make out what she is saying. I also suspect that Jyotsna herself would not be able to tell you what she had read, because she seems supremely disinterested in different news items or their finer nuances. That she is put on at prime time makes her all the more irritating. As also the fact that she looks quite smug and cosy when ending a sentence without any pause. While she mumbles and rushes, she gives a self-satisfied smile. She should watch one of her recordings to see what I mean. I repeat, some people will never learn.

The Christmas coverage on TV was overwhelming but what one noticed most was that none of the reporters could go much beyond Santa Claus, and Merry Christmas. Every channel has Christians or those who have been to Christian schools on its staff and surely they should be consulted for the difference between a carol and a crib. I wish listeners, viewers and readers a Happy New Year.