The tiger and the mangrove

BY SHYAM G. MENON| IN Media Practice | 22/08/2010
By the end of sustained news reporting of the collision, the issue had blossomed into a clean-up drive inspired by TV channels.
Unfortunately, the eagerness of the media to make a campaign of environment evokes cynicism for its intentions, says SHYAM G MENON. Pix: Mumbai waters aafter the collision.

The televised aftermath of collision between the MSC Chitra and the MV Khalijia-III was a shipping accident initially reported with promise but later lost to marketing gimmick. The gravity of the mishap ??" that you had a large capsized ship with several containers sunk or floating around in what was access to India’s biggest container port, Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust, its erstwhile biggest port, Mumbai port, and the Western Naval Command ??" all that surfaced later. What was on from day one was oil spill. There was oil leaked into the water but neither ship was a tanker bearing crude oil or refined product to cause massive scare. What would have leaked is fuel oil or `bunker,’ the trade term for oils meant for a ship’s own use. Still, we had a spill ??" no doubt on that. My first reaction was cynical ??" what isn’t already polluted in Mumbai’s waters? Neglected for decades, it was always murky at close quarters and a sorry dark patch from one’s aircraft window just after take-off. Now that IS cynical. By the end of sustained news reporting, the issue had blossomed into a clean-up drive inspired by TV channels. I am happy for Mumbai’s beaches and threatened mangroves.


Unfortunately, the eagerness of the media to make a campaign of environment evokes cynicism for its intentions. Oil spill was a live subject worldwide when the ships collided in Mumbai on August 7. From April 20-July 15, the world saw the worst ever marine oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Thanks to it, there was quick domestic interest in Mumbai’s oil spill even if it wasn’t crude oil, was of much less magnitude and the waters hugging the city had stopped resembling water long ago. We had a mini 26/11 type of competitive reporting; there was even a story in the local papers of a boatman losing his life while ferrying a news crew to film at sea. Media coverage should have stopped with reporting or graduated to serious documentary feature on the affected environment. What followed though was the inevitable media platform. Seriously, would a camera planted in every co-branded clean-up drive and tie-ups with automobile companies and cell phone companies to protect nature, suffice to make media green? I think it is a subject requiring greater deliberation than event management; especially if you looked at it from the perspective of journalism.


The first question is the eco-friendliness of the media, its carbon footprint being one of the measures. We usually skim this question despite a proliferation of media and media applications. Individual and corporate-owned, media is now inextricably mixed up with our senses. Issues of paper, electricity and operating an information gathering infrastructure aside, society is almost cybernetic so to question media invasion is to question ourselves. Simply put, the media is a far bigger animal than most of us consider it to be with the added beauty of being dispersed and hydra headed. I do not know sufficiently about the sprawl and invasiveness of this industry to sit in judgement of its share in the world’s carbon footprint. In direct terms, it is probably little. But with a bit of imagination anyone can visualize the way it pans, at times encourages, carbon footprint. If the media is a spider’s web, so is the way it is connected to the obvious polluters. Sample the advertisements in the media. How many of them directly contribute to a green planet even if the cover story be the planet? Take a publication or 24 hours of a TV channel and add up the likely carbon footprint of its advertisers. Multiply lure of advertisement by audience.


Sometimes editorial content has the same effect. Take product writing and programmes related to the automobile industry. Speculate on the carbon footprint it provokes - all the way from moving from where you are at that point in life to acquiring those superb vehicles, burning up the fuel, right down to even the social cost of inspiring such life. Surely the reverse also works ??" televised beach-cleaning impacts? As should, articles on fuel cells and hybrid engines? I don’t deny it. Question is ??" which outscores the other in the total package; green campaigns or mainstream advertisements? There would be nothing left to enjoy in life if we became brutally introspective. I don’t want that. It’s a tragedy if in a lifetime, the experience of living transformed from fun to pain. Yet even if we don’t, the legacy of the last one hundred years of humanity will force bitter medicine.


The least we can have as media professionals spared the scrutiny over eco-friendliness, which many other professions face or faced, is humility. We have been given the good fortune of reporting on the environment not to convert that too into a media platform but to inform people of what happened; educate on consequences yet always be in the background because like government, which must service the stubborn and the yielding, we have to carry yesterday, today and tomorrow with us. We are thus polluters advocating a less polluting way of life. We are necessarily half clean. On the clean side, we protect tigers. On the other side, a poacher’s idea of easy money may have been inspired by the last celebration of wealth he saw in the media. Who knows? If the purpose of environment campaign is to encourage more media then I suspect the math doesn’t harmonize because we don’t yet have genuinely eco-friendly media. This is what makes me cynical even as the media encourages cleaning of Mumbai’s beaches.


One of the glaring problems of our day is the absence of convincing media models for the sort of change recommended by everything from excess consumerism to high population and extreme climate. Our organizations are founded on old business compulsions, our instinct as journalists have become selfish and when we choose to be responsible, we - like any other company - want it to be advertised for brand promotion. Most important ??" if we changed the advertising basket, many of us may be thrown out of jobs in the revenue realignment that follows. Till we have convincing alternatives, low profile for ourselves and prominence for world, would have been graceful. Swamped by the media’s own oil spills, such character is as dead or facing demise as the tiger and the mangrove we seek to protect.    



(The author is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai)




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