ASHWINI A. writes from Bangalore: The role of television channels during the live coverage of the Bombay terror attack has been the subject of vociferous debate in the media with experts and news consumers accusing the channels of being voyeuristic, insensitive, irresponsible, etc.
However, what the 24-hour Kannada news channel TV9 did by the act of “breaking news” two days ago was not just irresponsible journalism but a criminal act to say the least. It has lent a new dimension to the growing public anger against electronic media.
Here’s what happened.
The nationwide polio drops administration program began in Karnataka on Sunday. Even as the program was underway, TV9 telecast a breaking news story in the evening about the death of a kid due to polio drops.
TV9 relentlessly and repeatedly played this ‘death’ in the form of breaking news, which ignited anxiety among lakhs of parents who had got their children immunized. Several thousands of them—mostly the poor—across Bangalore, Mysore, Mangalore, Chikmagalur, etc, turned up at the government hospitals seeking relief and cure for their children.
They stayed put through the night demanding doctors attend their kids. Private hospitals saw hundreds of parents waiting in the queue, upto as late as 2.30 am seeking medical assistance.
The government medical staff on duty—outwitted and hopelessly outnumbered—sought the help of the police as irate public assaulted doctors and damaged hospital property.
As it turned out later, no child had died because of polio drops anywhere in the State, but a kid had died due to hydrocephalus and that death was completely unconnected with the polio drops program. In fact, of the 60 lakh children who took the drops, there was not even a single case of any kid taking ill leave alone a death.
Through its conduct , choice of stories, and style of breaking news for the past two years, TV9 has taken television journalism to disgraceful new lows and on Sunday it hit a new depth by its own standard. This latest disgrace of TV9—without ascertaining the veracity—deserves to condemned as nothing short of criminal.
It resulted not just in general mayhem but caused untold misery to lakhs of parents across the State who were worried about the safety of their children.
Another tragic victim of this irresponsible story is the polio drops program. This initiative has suffered a huge setback and it will take some time for it to regain the trust of the public. There were reports that on Monday, the second day of the polio drops campaign, that dozens of volunteers were turned away by the wary parents across the State and as a result 54,000 kids could not be administered the polio drops in Bangalore alone.
How should we react to the TV9 story?
Is it enough to condemn it and call for self-regulation?
What do you do when a false and mischievous story administers a deadly blow to a well-intentioned medical initiative that reaches out to large, mostly poor and illiterate, sections of society?
Should the government revoke the license of the channel for a few days?
The Bangalore Police have booked nine cases against TV9 for “causing panic through mischievous statements”. But, is this enough? Will anything come out Police case against TV9 ? Will TV 9 learn its lessons or will it be back to business soon and unleash further horrors on an unsuspecting public?
Is it a good idea for the people to come together and march to the offices of TV9 office to register their outrage?
Lastly, should the reporter, who was responsible for filing the story without checking for facts, and the editor, who cleared it without bothering to verify the claim, be hauled up and criminal charges framed against them?
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In a country where millions depend on the media for information, it is the media’s responsibility to identify, process and report legitimate medical information to the public. If a reporter works on a medical news story, he/she should atleast have a basic knowledge of biostatistics and epidemiology (strength of association, cause and effect, etc). But, it seems that ‘newsworthy’ is decided by ‘does it boost the channel’s TRP ratings?’, ‘does it help the reporter’s career?’, ‘does it show the opposition party in a bad light? (if the media is owned by politicians)’.
I agree that the channel’s license should be revoked and both the reporter and the editor should be held accountable for putting thousands of children at risk.
In the United States the FCC enforces strict rules against broadcasting hoaxes. See http://www.fcc.gov/eb/broadcast/hoaxes.html.
India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting must penalize TV9 heavily for the hoax, which caused substantial public harm. Alas, for irresponsible reporting boycott may be the only punishment, but for hoaxes there should be fines and warnings toward license revocation.
Good job done by TV9 They Tracking City Crimes and alerting to citizen.