Rescuing Prince

BY sr r| IN Media Practice | 28/07/2006
Like Jessica Lal and Rajesh Kataria, Prince became subject of a television crusade because he was close enough to Delhi.



S R Ramanujan



Has reality TV arrived in India? Has it been able to unite the nation? Frankly, one cannot answer these pompous questions raised by the television channels themselves in the aftermath of the Operation Kurukshetra. At the same time, we cannot be dismissive of the supportive role of the visual media in rescuing Prince Kumar from the deadly pit. It was a marvelous 24-hour job which kept the entire nation, irrespective of the class, caste or religion, on a state of alert, anxiety and hope for two full days.  The impact of their live coverage and studio discussions forced even the print media allot more than the usual space for Prince. He became a Prince in real life though the ordeal he underwent for 50 odd hours must have been terribly traumatic for the 5-year old infant. The media can, rightfully, feel proud of its positive role on such occasions, despite its inherent weakness in trivializing and sensationalizing news most of the time. 


Prince not only attracted media attention. Even Parliament was made to acknowledge his valour on the opening day of its monsoon session. The President, Prime Minister and a host of political leaders cutting across party lines were there to register their participation in the nation’s prayer for the rescue of the child. Former External Affairs Minister K Natwar Singh in his column "A new little hero for India" in the Deccan Chronicle (July 25) went overboard while exhorting Prince to "become a role model to millions of children of our beloved India". The Economic Times suggests that "Grit-and-poise story may be part of corporate campaigns" and that "Prince morphs into a brand of courage". 


The Hindu had a first edit "A rescue and some issues" (July 25). While describing the dramatic rescue as "inspiring", the edit raised concerns about the lack of safety for working women and unattended children in the rural areas. A major contrast in such rescue operations was also highlighted by the Hindu. In Kanhangad town of Kerala, a five-year old boy fell into a borewell down 300 feet and only his body was pulled out after a ten-and-a-half hour ordeal. Besides, there were two comparable incidents in Chennai and Salem in which young children lost their lives, the Hindu said in its editorial.


True, in Andhra Pradesh, too, there were at least four such incidents in Nalgonda, Mahabubnagar and Karimnagar districts in the last couple of years, where children in similar age group fell into pits dug for borewells and all of them perished in the absence of professionally managed rescue efforts. All these borewells are dug by contractors for installing hand pumps as part of rural water supply schemes or by the farmers for agriculture pump sets, and they are abandoned without proper cover, if there is no availability of water. These uncovered pits turn out to be death traps for the rural kids. Amidst the saturated coverage of Prince’s rescue, viewers have not been told as to who was responsible for the uncovered pit, has the agency/individual been identified and will any action be taken against those behind such callousness and irresponsibility.


This raises an important question. Do the national television channels or even newspapers take note only of what happens in and around the national capital? Are they Delhi- centric? Had Prince been in a remote village far far away from Delhi, unlike Kurukshetra, he would have met the same fate as that of little boys in Tamil Nadu, Kerala or Andhra Pradesh. Natwar Singh has rightly raised this point in his column. He says "In rural India, young children have a tough time, and if something like this were to happen to a child in a remote village in Rajasthan, Bastar or the outback of Orissa, the end would have been different".


Be that as it may, why did the CNN-IBN sound apologetic in its India 360 programme on July 24 when it had a panel discussion? The anchor was asking every panelist whether the channels over-reacted to the incident when they went all out canceling scheduled programmes and shortening commercial time to focus on the rescue efforts by the Indian Army. The sub-heads like "Prince of TRP" added to the self-doubt. The focus of the programme was that the reality TV has arrived in India. But then, there was a rider. "Reality TV for positive stories like Prince’s rescue is ok, but it can be bad when it tries to violate individual’s right to privacy". What about the sting operations? Do they infringe upon individual freedom and privacy? Can such operations be outsourced?


Ironically, in the same time band, there was a story of its London correspondent knocking at the door of an individual in Middlesex where Bharati Yadav is supposed to be living. When the correspondent asks whether Bharati Yadav lives there, the reply comes from within over the internal sound system "Yes, she lives here, but not available at the moment". Then, the owner of the flat arrives at the scene and drives away the cameraman. May be, it is also part of "reality TV".


When we talk about Bharati Yadav, we are also reminded of other crusades of the channel for Jessica Lal murder case, and Priyadarsini Mattoo case. Undoubtedly, these are instances of miscarriage of justice and the media has to take up such cases in public interest. But overdoing may be counter-productive. How many times we can see Neelam Kataria (mother of Rajesh Kataria) in the studios or before the cameras, especially when she has nothing new to say. Well, again the same question, as we raised in the case of Prince, crops up here. If Jessica or Kataria were the residents of Kolkatta, Chennai or Mumbai, would they have been subjects of television crusade. One does not know. But, slowly an impression is gaining ground that the national channels are increasingly becoming Delhi-centric.   





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