Flood on Delhi rain, drought on Orissa floods

BY T S Sudhir| IN Media Practice | 17/09/2011
No one is disputing the media coverage of such a downpour in Delhi but watching this thousands of miles away in Orissa, I wonder how those affected by floods must have felt.
T S SUDHIR says the press release type coverage given to Orissa floods and the inundation time given to Delhi rain is callous.

When NDTV tweeted, asking people in Delhi to MMS to them, rain pictures and videos, there was outrage on twitter, with the twitteratti questioning why the Orissa floods didn't deserve the same attention. TV channels got the message and the need to justify the media focus on Delhi. So by late evening TV channels went to town explaining how in just three hours the capital had recorded 117 mm of rain. For reference please note that in the entire month of September, usually, Delhi receives 128 mm of rain. And the last time the Rain Gods couldn't shut the tap off was in 1959.
The visuals added to the effect; Delhi's swanky showpiece, the T3 airport terminal under a sheet of water, shots of passengers and officials slipping, workers trying to clear the water. Outside there were long traffic jams with irate Dilliwallahs grumbling about how they had missed appointments and had never seen the city so wet.
No one is disputing the media coverage of such a downpour in Delhi but watching this thousands of miles away in Orissa, I wonder how those affected by floods must have felt. For more than a week now Orissa has battled the Mahanadi in spate. Twenty-six people have died and some 14 lakh people have been affected. Journalists in Orissa say in a couple of areas this is the worst flood the locals have seen in their life, with many areas cut off and supply of relief material, as is common during floods in most parts of India, a tardy and inefficient exercise.
Yet while anchors and reporters stationed at different locations in Delhi enlightened the country about how the national capital is not equipped to handle this kind of a one-day affair, none of Orissa's travails got even a fraction of this airtime on India's English national channels. Not surprising considering the real definition of a `national channel' is one that covers the national capital region. Which is broadly Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon.  Mumbai is an add-on to the package. For flavour and to make it appear `national' they throw in a bit of Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata occasionally.
But the channels did not completely ignore Orissa. They occasionally put the eastern state into what they call `speed news', where in less than half a minute cold statistics are thrown at the viewer - xx dead, xx injured, xxx relief camps, xxx food packets distributed, xx blankets distributed, xx villages affected and so on. By the end of it you think it would have been better if it had not been covered at all. If television stories are to read like a government press release, pray whatever happened to pictures?
During the debate on the Lokpal bill, Sharad Yadav pointed out that the carpet coverage of Anna's fast had blacked out stories from UP and Bihar, where large areas were flooded. He had a point. Today, news channels do half hour shows on the silly St Stephen's versus Hansraj College controversy or what Jacqueline Kennedy said about Indira Gandhi a good 45 plus years ago but stories from outside the NCR are consigned to being a 20 second blink-and-you-miss-it apology.
In 2009 a TV channel which went to town over the Mumbai floods ignored those in Kurnool and Vijayawada, the worst in Andhra Pradesh's history. Why? The management and editorial decision was that the channel will cover floods only in metros. What it meant was it was interested in floods which affected people in its `TRP market'.
Unfortunately unless these national channels showcase a tragedy, people in Delhi do not even realize such a problem exists 100 km out of their city. Which is why the outrage over twitter to an otherwise harmless request. But then how much anger and anguish can you convey in 140 characters?
(The author is Editor of `The South Reports')
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