Saturday, October 14, 2006

Media in the time of crisis
Amita Malik

Amita MalikOne can blame TV for many ills, including its generally frivolous nature, but equally one can only praise it in times of crisis. Even cricket and the Champions Trophy have had to give way to the grave crisis caused by the dengue menace. Beginning at the beginning, the Minister, like any politician, kept saying there was no epidemic, there was no cause for panic, facilities were adequate and the situation was under control. But the media, both print and electronic, kept up the pressure nevertheless.

At the time of writing, citizens are increasingly being asked to cooperate in fighting the menace and the ministerís voice has almost disappeared. The media, with each channel trying to keep ahead of the others in covering the disease, is sometimes given to creating panic. But, there is no doubt that in this case it has created awareness not only in ordinary people but also in government spokespersons, who are becoming aware of the old adage that you can fool some of the people some of the time, you can fool some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. The note of restraint which has crept into government statements is entirely due to the media.

Meanwhile, the electronic media is doing a splendid job of creating awareness. For instance, how many of us knew that dengue mosquitoes breed in clean and not dirty water? And that an open bucket of water in our bathroom or kitchen can breed thousands of larvae and that these dangerous mosquitoes leave dirty water alone? Also, appeals have been made to close water tanks on rooftops and even stop washing verandahs because water can form pools below. As a result, I warned my cleaning woman not to wash the verandahs with a splash, as is her habit, but to swab them with a wet cloth.

Also of great use on the media are the telephone numbers of doctors one can ring up when in doubt. Information is given about the symptoms of dengue and the hospitals equipped to deal with it. Telephone numbers are, for once, shown slowly on the screen so that one can jot them down. And I also found valuable the names of the tablets one can take, paracetamol by name in the newspapers, as against aspirin, which does not work in this case. Yes, TV has its silly side, but in this case it is performing a valuable social service and we should be thankful for it.

And now we come to cricket. I am sorry to return to the same subject again, but the fact that viewers and cricket lovers are intensely irritated is proved by the number of complaints I receive on the phone and otherwise, asking me to voice the sentiments of cricket lovers. What they, and I back them, are asking is this: Why does Set Max have to have such a large a panel in the studios to analyse the matches? Surely it would be enough to have Tony Greig and Barry Richards as foreign experts for Indian as well as foreign audiences, while our own Ayaz Memon backed up by Donna Symmonds as a woman expert, on merit and without noodle straps, can complete the team.

The redundant ones are Mandira Bedi and, most of all, Charu Sharma. I do not wish to be unkind, but judging from the time he has been around, I suspect Charu started his career in the radio, and that is where he has got stuck. Radio needs constant talk but TV, where viewers can see everything, is a different ball game. Besides talking non-stop during tennis, Charu showed his lack of common sense when during the Leander Paes-Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi versus Mahesh Bhupathi-Mario Ancic doubles semifinal in Mumbai, he discussed with Gaurav Natekar the new stadium, gate money, etc. while the match was at its most exciting.

Charu should stick to radio and spare us his non-stop flights on TV. As for Mandira, although she now sports sleeves while retaining her non-stop smile and idle chatter, we could be spared her thoughts on who will win the match and whether Sachin is back in form. We would rather have Greig, Richards, Memon and Donna, who now have to smile politely as Charu and Mandira jabber away.