[Reader-list] TV fuels speculation, sparks off panic

anilbhatia anilbhatia at indiatimes.com
Tue Aug 26 11:06:48 IST 2003

TV fuels speculation, sparks off panic
Team ET. Tuesday, August 26, 2003
How much does media reporting contribute to panic in situations of grave emergency like the Mumbai blasts on Monday? And what is the extent of damage caused by reports using unconfirmed and unverified information, which later turn out to be incorrect?
Facts took a backseat on Monday afternoon, as television news channels went into a frenzy fuelled by rumour and conjecture. Television anchors and reporters outdid each other in dramatising facts and fuelling rumours. 
For starters, the news channels kept announcing that there had been at least four to five blasts in the city for a good three hours after the event. Locations such as Marine Lines, the municipal headquarters and even Hill Road in suburban Bandra were mentioned. This was despite the fact that these channels were simultaneously beaming live interviews of top Mumbai policemen stating there had only been two blasts at the Gateway of India and Kalbadevi. One anchor even confidently mentioned Marine Drive as the location of one such blast! This kind of coverage added to the anxiety of thousands of families waiting for news of their loved ones. 
Another news channel reported that offices in the Nariman Point business district were asked to shut down and send their employees home. This turned out to be incorrect. Police spokespersons had said they had only beefed up security of multi-storeyed buildings; no appeal to shut down offices had ever been made. 
The channels then turned their attention to the hospitals, focusing on close-ups of charred bodies lined up in the wards. In more than one case, anchors thrust microphones at wailing relatives of the deceased asking for their comments on the situation. They also invaded the hospital wards capturing stunned blast victims, many of whom were dazed and some even undressed. The voice-over accompanying the footage made a feeble apology, saying the pictures were live and could be disturbing for viewers. A senior corporate official severely criticised the media for fuelling panic and dramatising events. 
Conjecture and veiled suggestions on possible motives of the perpetrators of the crime run the risk of fuelling a communal situation. Voice-overs in one channel suggested that terrorists had chosen to strike between the Janmasthami and Ganesh Chaturthi festivals to create panic and to take advantage of the lax police bandobust, unmindful of the reaction this kind of a message might fan. 
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