Street to screen

In the last two years, TV news has taken to the streets for every cause. So it was no surprise when the news channels joined the crowds at Raisina Hill

To show or not to show? To campaign or not to campaign? To be or not to be with the thousands of protesters in Lutyens' Delhi? Those questions should have weighed upon news channels after last week's barbaric rape in the capital. But there was no such dilemma: in the last two years, TV news has always taken to the streets for every cause, so why not when the cause is so just?

Barring last Thursday, when assembly election results from Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh got a shoo in, TV news has been leading the fight against corruption — sorry, rape — at India Gate/Jantar Mantar. Or it has been outside Safdarjang Hospital, where the woman is being treated. Did the carpet coverage remind you of Anna Hazare's fast or Ramdev's? The nature of the coverage has been the same: reporters talk to the protesters ("tell us, why are you here?"), anchors bemoan the government's indifference and the police's laxity, hold hysterical discussions with calls for castration or chemical castration, and when all hell breaks loose between the police and the protesters, say the police is "inept" (Times Now), that the situation is "out of control" (CNN-IBN) — it is "iron fist versus iron will" (Headlines Today) as people are "forcibly" removed by the police (NDTV 24x7).

TV news coverage did not lead to the violence in Delhi. On the contrary, its unrelenting and merciless hounding of the government and the authorities helped to force both to respond. But its 24x7 coverage, its demands for quick-fix solutions, the demand for the death penalty (at the very least), only enraged an already outraged citizenry. Rational voices — and there were many on all channels, from former police officers and representatives of women's groups — who argued for speedy trials, the certainty of punishment and social responsibility sounded like wimps.

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