One of the bizarre stories that went around the time the twin towers of the World Trade Centre were coming down on September 11, 2001, was how a couple, thinking that the world was coming to an end, made out on the rooftop as the fires raged from the iconic buildings. Such things do not deserve official corroboration, but this incident was the subject matter of profound and deep analysis by many commentators. The US, which is good at conducting all kinds of market surveys and epidemiological research, is believed to have produced statistics of how the fecund citizenry performed during those fateful days. More children were conceived, it was suggested, during those cataclysmic days than before or after. Psychologists would claim that fear and terror have a way of releasing sexual energy and would attribute it to human desire to find comfort from fellow-mates in such times.
It is too early to figure out whether the Mumbai attack by terrorists released primeval energies, but TV reporters and anchors reporting outside Taj Mahal Hotel, the Oberoi and Nariman House, which were under the control of gun-toting killers, in their attempt to whip up fear and mass hysteria, made noises that can surely be termed as deeply sexual. Compromising rationality, balance and objectivity, these anchors - mostly on Indian English channels (most of us have given up on the Hindi channels, anyway) reporting/analysing thoughtlessly, without objectivity, without a pause, recounted endlessly the manner in which the terrorists were being chased by the commandoes. Claiming all the time during the 60 hour siege that the "final assault" to smoke out the terrorists was underway, the anchors, in orgiastic voices, succeeded in creating a frenzy not seen before. Many of those extremely irritating, uncultured, primitive and loud voices hung heavily on the heads of those who committed the folly of watching the live 24/7 coverage till the places were secured by the NSG commandoes.
Such an aggressive, emotionally-draining coverage brought rich dividends for the profit-driven TV channels. Their ratings zoomed far ahead of entertainment and sports channel. Quite clearly, whipping up passions and stoking fears was a formula that had come their way unknowingly. And the channels were not willing to forsake it, despite censure by the government and those who could still think straight after the mind-bending vomit the TV anchors engaged in. What followed was something worse.
Displaying a delusion of grandeur laced with the same urgency and breathlessness, the channels unleashed a vicious campaign against the political class. "Enough is enough" was the rubric of one of the channels that instigated countrywide demonstrations against the politicians. Fascistic mindlessness was unleashed on those who give precedence to action based on emotions rather than rationality. Chat show hosts began to egg the government to strike at Pakistan. They rubbished all those who made contrarian noises and advised caution against pre-emptive strikes. Pakistani experts, who were invited to television shows, were dismissed perfunctorily, whereas Indian hawks were given space and applause.
The coverage from the time the attack took place on November 26, right till the time of writing this column, represents a continuum of sorts. Reporters speaking in hushed, feverish voices have been replaced by their more celebrated anchors, who are now translating what resides in the angst-ridden ,terror, scarred psyche of an Indian. And their reading is that Mumbai has to be avenged, whatever it takes. Disturbingly, most of the channels and their chosen guests speak in the same language and demand largely the same things.
What has also been witnessed is that the politicians who have a reputation of holding a different view than the anchors or the alleged ‘editorial line' of the channels, are reluctant to air their views in the open. Leaders from the communist party, articulate in the worst of times, were found fumbling when hit by a fusillade of unvarnished, but illogical jingoism. They realised that if they are not on the same page as the studio audience then they may be lynched by the mob.
This frenzy created by the media has disturbing implications. In India, media has stopped reporting; instead, they are trying to engage in policy change, without any nuanced understanding of what the country needs. Their market ratings have become their divine logic and they are unmindful of the consequences. If they are not stopped in their tracks, the world may see a war induced by the TV channels.