Saturday, January 9, 2010

Life first

This week it was Lal Chowk flashing across our screens. A Fidayeen attack after three years. More than a gunfight it turned out to be a spectacle. The way television channels cover such events leaves nothing unfinished for a perfect reality show of adventure and dare-devilry. Seeing the live coverage especially on non-English channels makes it a grand show of fire and brimstone where you never know how many are in, how many out. How many killed, how many left. For a moment a news studio turns into a typical commentary box where experts predict the fate of the players in the field. A viewer is lost as to whether he is witnessing a tragedy that takes human lives or a 20-20 game where nothing can be said till the last ball is bowled, or the last fire is shot. The spice of suspense and excitement is provided by news anchors who clearly seem to be involved in the proceedings. Surcharged with a passion, some news casters even offer tips to the men in uniform to win over the insurgents. After a long while a poor viewer reconciles to the fact that what he is watching is not theatre but a new form of sport called Breaking News Journalism. Here they generate a heat of different kind. The heat that is drawn from the cold of human blood. Anyways, that is an old story now. But what we saw here was a little more serious than this.
A police officer so brazenly opening fire at GK Lensman Aman Farooq made a bigger news. That is outrageous. When even responsible officers misuse their arms and shoot to kill, what more can be said. Guilty merits punishment, but the event in general leaves some questions answered. Questions regarding the safety of journalists and precautions needed. It also brings the role of police and other law enforcing agencies under a scanner. Let’s for a while resist our temptation to sensationalise and have an emotion-shorn analysis of the whole affair of reporting from the scene and tackling the dangers thereof.
There is no doubt reporting in Kashmir is fraught with an unmanageable risk and the price at times can be too huge to bear. This too goes without saying that field journalists need full protection in a situation where bullets rain and life hangs by a thread. But in addition to all this, there is something that is badly needed. Caution. Safety measures like bullet and fire proof jackets and boots can only reduce the quantum of risk, but can’t shield us from any and every fear. True, the adventure which this profession is known for has its own share, but life once gone is gone for good. No photograph how rare and unique, no video clip how priceless - nothing is worth life. Our reporters and photo-journalists do discharge their duties in a danger ridden atmosphere, so they have to be extra-cautious. It never means that any use of force can be justified from whichever quarter. That never gives a license to those who harass media professionals and keep them from doing their duties. But that nevertheless makes us doubly watchful. One misadventure can cost us our life. Individually our romance with danger hits us back. Collectively our constant flirting with perils has already brought us to the point of extinction. The enormity of that loss we can only imagine. Far bigger than anything usually care to think of.
Since lensmen capture moments. A moment once slipped can’t be recaptured. So they want to catch it happening. That is the spirit behind this profession. But that can be made an intelligent use of. Here the first lesson is to save yourself, then to get the maximum you want. That is what all experienced journalists having worked in the most vulnerable areas of the world have taught us. They too take up the challenge of reporting from war-zones but they are too methodical to be targeted by any group involved in the fight. Well that can’t always rule out the possibility of any damage, but volunteering yourself as a fodder to the cannons is no mission, but a crazy act that can cost us dear. What then if you miss a shot. Losing a click is still better than losing life.

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