Tuesday, 7 July, 2009

In defence of the Indian television-news media

The Indian media has often received flak for its tendency to go overboard, be sensational and milk any trivial event much beyond its worth.

All things argued about the Indian television news media, there are a lot of factors that need to be understood.

The private news channels’ boom in India may have been triggered initially by purely commercial motives, but to attribute the phenomenal growth to successful business conspiracies would be parochial.

The news media in India may not have proliferated, had there not been a supervening social need for it. News corporations brought in the economic element; the socio-political-cultural situation in India enabled the news channels to enter and then thrive. The four factors acted in tandem –– sometimes overtaking each other, sometimes simultaneous to each other and sometimes paving the way for each other.

The socio-political-cultural events in the 1990s had created a need for a platform for people to access information. The advent of Zee News and Star News networks merely filled that existing vacuum. The Indian government's liberalisation and globalisation reforms of the time, the gradual changes in the broadcasting laws and policies, the changes in the allowance of foreign direct investment, the advent and rise of cable television markets, the lowering of production costs for the starting of news channels, the reaching of a saturation point in other segments of media business (i.e. TV entertainment channels, music channels, movie channels), the prevalence of a non-hybrid market (26 languages and 146 dialects) and the chain of 'dramatic' events all around, necessitated the news for information.

These factors are important to realise. Rather than creating the need; for the media it was about being at the right places at the right times. When Rupert Murdoch saw India as a potential ‘market’, he may not have predicted the Indo-Pak Kargil war that led to Star News’ success. When Aaj Tak was just consolidating its position, a train compartment full of people was slaughtered, leading to one of the worst communal riots in the country. These news networks consolidated their positions by their coverage of these dramatic events; events that were affecting the people’s lives.

With each event, a new audience for the news channels was created. Having once got hooked on to the news genre, these audiences stayed on. This further created a market, and caught the attention of advertisers. News media business became lucrative and hence, more players ventured into the genre. They have further penetrated the 'regional' and 'niche' markets. They have been thinking of content that is appealing to 'local' audiences. The creation of such localised content has, in return, engaged the audiences, and this has led to further interest in this potential market from foreign players. The development that was triggered by a foreign network, in a way has reached full circle.

The industry players do admit that the coverage of news in India has been at times laden with inaccuracies, exaggerations and titillation. This, they attribute to the fierce competition and need to secure more eyeballs for a longer duration. It is noteworthy that though the news industry players condemn the seeping of sensationalism and tabloidisation into the news channels’ content, they adamantly support ‘infotainment’. Their conviction has been that such style of news presentation at least drew audiences to the news genre. The news channels refuse to take up the onus of ‘enlightening’ the audiences and perceive themselves predominantly as business enterprises.
But they have exhibited the resolve to conduct this business with ethical responsibility. The television news business in India is in its nascent stages. So it may be slightly unfair to relate the deviations of news channels towards sensationalism or high-decibel levels, as constant pursuits for increased viewership. Inexperience and anxiety to excel could be cited as a reason as well.

But despite the criticism the Indian news channels face, the Indian news channels has managed to create an informed public sphere. Not only has it managed to give vent to topics that would otherwise have not been explored, but it has also succeeded in winning the confidence of the citizens of the country. So even if the news channels have targeted the audiences as ‘consumers’, the ‘citizens’ are reaping the benefits of this increased competition.

The news channel genre has evolved in India in an era of dramatic events, and an era where other contemporary audio-visual genres are slick and pacy. So the challenge for the news media is not only to succeed, but also to sustain. In such a scenario, the Indian news channel media’s interest in infotainment seems legitimate, as long as they function within legal and moral limits. The formation of a regulatory body could help in this regard.

In some respects, Indian phenomenon can be compared to what Al Jazeera is doing to the Arab world. One of the criticisms that has often been levelled against Al Jazeera is its desire for audience ratings and being led by the masses. But as Mohammed El Nawawy and Adel Iskander argue in their book on Al Jazeera, “should the media lead the masses? Is this the role of the media? Ideally, the news media is completely objective; however, in its role on commercialised television, it would be hard to find any media that is completely objective, being also driven to respond to local sensibilities”.

To others who criticise Al Jazeera’s drive towards sensationalism to boost its ratings, the authors argue that at least the Al Jazeera has stirred up some emotions, whatever the means.

And as India’s industry professionals have been arguing, the Indian news channels have done that. Not only have the channels exposed scandals and scams, they have also encouraged people to act and respond.

In the future, things may stabilise and the current drive to steer ahead of competition through compromising on content could subside. With DTH and IPTV coming in, the channels will be forced to concentrate on improving their own content, rather than merely aping their competitors. Niche players will enter the market, catering to the needs of specifically targeted consumers. Consolidation between transnational-national-regional-local and niche channels could see only a few consolidated groups seriously in contention, and such wide tie-ups could enhance variety and quality of output. The local players should rise to a better standard of technical and editorial practices, and the international players could expand their reach, both, in terms of audiences as well as resources.

This may take time. The current obsession of the news channels for speed is generating a kind of fast-food journalism, where news is losing its nutritional value.

But who is to decide what the “perfect” form and format of journalism is? In the Indian context, it would be pertinent to draw a parallel, by citing the example of India’s film industry. The song-and-dance routine of ‘Bollywood’ films may be unlike other styles of filmmaking. But that does not imply that the films generated this way are not good films. Similarly, television news journalism in India has developed in its own unique way.

And it will continue to do so. As Thomas Abraham of Indiantelevision.com, said in an interview: “The day that the editorial takes over in its right sense, you will find that India will be vastly improved, and the transformation always comes through television. It will be like what the 1950-60s were for the Americans. Whatever you heard and saw on TV, as long as it was done the right way, you believed in it.
“That’s what is happening here, and it will continue to happen. You can’t escape that.”

Friday, 27 June, 2008

Must truth be the first casualty in war reporting?

The omnipotence of the media has grown manifold in the last decade with hundreds of news channels around the world now capable of relaying news round the clock, throughout the year. This fact assumes significance with the rise in ‘global terrorism’ - with political, geographical, ideological, ethnic and religious wars being waged in practically every continent of the world. The media’s ability to present events and happenings ‘Live’ from the conflict-zones has rendered it unprecedented power to shape opinions, ideologies, policies and consequently, the histories of mankind.

This is an attempt to broadly identify the wide range of factors influencing the war journalists’ ability to report news from war zones, fairly and accurately. It studies the personal, social, political, professional and other determinants related to the war that lead to the casualty of the cardinal value in journalism: ‘the truth’.

What is ‘the truth’?

To determine whether truth is indeed a casualty in war reporting, it is essential to perceive the abstract concept of truth in a conventionally identifiable construct.

The principle of ‘objectivity’ qualifies as an apt construct of truth, as it is not only a universally accepted journalistic principle, but also serves as an important legitimizing function; ensuring utmost adherence to “professional” norms by those practicing journalism.

The application of objectivity involves the gathering of news and conveying them in a detached, impersonal way free of value judgements. This also acts as a professional defence for the journalists since it assumes certain uniform standards in the procedures for the ‘verification of facts, the separating of facts from analysis, the presenting of conflicting possibilities and supporting evidence, the judicious use of quotation marks, the structuring of news in an appropriate sequence and, the criterion of common sense in assessing news content’

Hallin sees the principles of objectivity as guides- “they tell the journalists not to allow political pressures to interfere with ‘news judgement’, not to take sides in political controversy and not to let personal opinions colour the reporting of news” .

But the question is how effectively do the reporters really manage to exercise objectivity, as war reporting is a complex task.

War reporting: Personal, professional and political complexities

War reporters are susceptible to becoming ‘refractive’ mediums of factual information. The issues and players that cause such refraction are several, inter-dependent and intricately interwoven.

Invariably, these compelling factors are political, military, professional or personal.

Political factors

Propaganda, Censorship and Media Controls

Both, the military and their governments attempt to regulate the information flows to the public through censorship or other media controls, under the pretext of national security and confidentiality. Knightley cites the media’s failure in the reporting of events in Serbia-Kosovo, where it became a victim of ‘lies, manipulation, news management, propaganda, spin, distortion, omission, slant and gullibility’.

“(NATO spokesperson) Shea and the NATO officers (provided) convincing technical details... NATO officers were on a podium with high-tech equipment for displaying images to illustrate their points…the journalists sat below the podium in rows of seats like in a classroom. And again, like in school, they had to attract attention to ask a question. From a psychological viewpoint, there was no doubt who was in control.”

The Government’s cause is helped by the fact that the journalists have to rely on ‘official statements’ for most of its information. Content analysis studies of newspaper coverage in India and Pakistan revealed that there is a heavy emphasis on the official statements given by the governments on both sides, the media rarely verifies the facts from people outside the government machinery, and (consequently), there is very little coverage of the news from the ‘other side’ .

Governments also find other ways of media control: by “being the media” itself.

State penetration of the media

There have been startling claims of wide-scale penetration of the media by government agencies like the CIA. Thus ensures proliferation of propaganda and ‘manufactured’ claims. Cockburn and St Clair (1999, p. 32) quote a CIA memo that explained that the CIA maintained relationships with news agencies and organizations worldwide. The memo read –

“We have persuaded reporters to postpone, change, hold or even scrap stories that could have adversely affected national security interests or jeopardized sources or method.”

Such scenarios spell certain casualty of truth, but even where media organizations are not owned or penetrated by the states, there exist other factors that govern successful application of objectivity.

Professional / Media-Organizational factors

To Inform or to Infotain, “That” is the question

Conflicts provide news channels, particularly the ‘live 24/7’ kind, with elements of soap operas or sports programmes that glue audiences to their television sets: drama, intrigue, action, agony and ecstasy. As Thussu points out, ‘audience interest in news is at the highest at the time of conflict: news is largely about conflict, and conflict is always news’.

The channels are ‘ratings-driven’, dependent on corporate advertising and cater to a heterogeneous audience. These concerns are reflected in news agendas and editorial priorities, as conflict reporting tends towards ‘infotainment’ than merely ‘public-service’ information.

News Content: ‘Live and Immediate’ vs. ‘Accurate’ Coverage

The news channels’ pursuit for ‘fast and exclusive’ news reports tends to sensationalize and trivialize complex stories as they sacrifice depth, accuracy and understanding in favour of the widest and quickest reach of live news. This leaves no time for reporters to investigate, research and reflect on their news, before they go ‘on-air’.

Adding to the complexity is the inadequate information, misinformation, contrasting and conflicting half-truths, rumours and at times, outright lies that circulate in conflict-zones.

When any new information is unavailable, journalists tend to conjure up ‘news’ through idle speculation or through reports influenced by rumour. Often, they do not even bother to seek fresh insights and deliver what MacGregor (1997, p. 200) calls ‘palm tree journalism’ - in which a journalist delivers a stand-up (piece-to-camera report) against a suitable prop or backdrop that suggests authentic locations and immediacy of report.

Competition is another driving factor. During the events of 9/11, television networks sometimes resorted to speculation and supposition rather than accurate reporting, in order to be the first to beat rival networks. Not surprisingly, it was often the elite media such as CNN who set the agenda.

The Costs of News, and the Price of Glory

The high costs and dangers involved in placing reporters in war zones around the world mean that there is substantial reliance on news feeds and reports coming from news agencies. But ironically, the costs of such news pictures, is high as well. Consequently, what reaches the audiences as reality, are often the less reliable, one-sided views of the dominant players in global information and entertainment industries – usually the Western (UK or US) conglomerates, to be more specific.

Another determinant of the choice of conflict and its coverage by the media, is the ‘prestige factor’ involved – ‘We were the first to be there!’

The desire to win the ‘year-end awards’ requires media organizations to place their ‘best-known’ faces in war zones, and the treatment of stories covered is likely to be influenced by their worthiness to ‘nominate’ the news organizations for awards, and thus be ‘promotional fodder’ for them.

But such pursuit for glory is not only a need for the organizations alone. As these political, military and professional factors influence the fate of truth in war reporting, it is eventually the journalist who relishes the ‘thrills’ of war reporting.

In his hands, lies the power to make a difference.

Personal factors

Beyond any desires to be altruistic, it is the personal fame, the thrills of action, courage, travel and adventure, the inspiring tradition of war journalism, the ‘power’ to make a difference; that inspires war journalists to undertake the risks they take. But this comes at a price. The military, political, technological and economic considerations pressurise the reporters at every stage.

Sociology of the journalist

Reporting in high-pressure situations like wars can reflect the journalists’ bias and ideologies in their news reports.

“Regarding themselves often as mere ‘mirrors’ to reality, journalists deny what invariably distorts their reflections. They belong to socio-economic classes and ethnic groups; they are male or female, they have certain predispositions and views (even if they think they successfully suppress them) and they breathe a particular ‘cultural air’…”

Rai, in his observations on the media coverage of the militant insurgencies in Kashmir points out that the media output depends on the moral and intellectual calibre of the persons owning and manning it as much as on their personal background, convictions, interests and outlook on life. Political and religious ideologies will have a bearing on news reports too. In the coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflicts, it has mattered whether reporters have held anti-Semitic or pro-Semitic views.

Such diversities result in varied news treatments of the same individuals and events by the different media outlets. Some become spokespersons for a particular conflicting side, some ‘stoke the fires subtly or not so subtly’, while others may create and depict false incidents to suit their designs.

Sociology shall also include the literary and linguistic style of a journalist. It is always difficult to appropriately identify individuals in conflicts. Should they be referred as militants/ insurgents or freedom fighters? The use of word ‘murder’ for ‘killing’ would connote differently. Such subtle introduction of bias is likely to create ‘stereotyped’ images in the audiences’ mind. For example, Pakistani Madarassas (Muslim, religious schools) are invariably referred to as terrorist training camps by the Indian media, when it has been proved that not a single Madarassa run by the dominating faction of Pakistani Muslims (called Hanfis) has been used as a training camp in arms and ammunition.

Purism vs. Patriotism

This is one of the most important factors that influence the media’s stance in times of wars, as ‘patriotism’ is often equated with promoting the agendas and interests of the governments or regime in power. The media also has to remember where their major owners and readers are based. War reporters then tend to be like sports reporters, balancing between their jingoistic emotions and duty towards their profession.

As senior Indian journalist Rajdeep Sardesai commented in his article in The Indian Express (26.07.2001) - “During Kargil, anyone who questioned the government’s intelligence failure was immediately labelled anti-national. The anti-national argument is based on a false construction that the government, the media and the nation have shared interests at all times. On the contrary, just as the government must discharge its duties, so too the press must do its job.”

And what is true in the Indian context is a dilemma for news organizations, the world over. Much depends on whose side you are - Israel or Palestine, the NATO states or the Yugoslavs, the US-UK allied forces or from the Middle East. And this trend is getting stronger, with channels openly owning up where their leanings lie.

Hart and Naureckas (2002) claim that, “…the war in Afghanistan appears to be a defining event for Fox News Channel. Fox may reshape the way wars are covered with its aggressive cheerleading for the US armed forces and their allies, and its hostile, even insulting portrayal of their opponents – who have been described by Fox personnel as “rats”, “terror goons” and “psycho Arabs”’

Such allegiances to the ruling elites are compelled by the fact that the media has restricted access to information about the clandestine happenings within the military and political walls. And where they are in the open on the battlegrounds, access is still difficult.

Access to information in war zones

The huge geographical expanses, topographical inconsistencies, environmental vagaries and unpredictable battlefield conditions make it difficult for journalists to gauge the exact nature of happenings in war zones.

BBC correspondent John Simpson (1991b, xv-xvi) who covered the Gulf War, compared his position to that of the football spectator seated near one of the goal-mouths: “Whenever the play was down at my end I had a superb view of it. But when it moved to the far end of the pitch I only knew what was happening when I heard the crowd roar”

Having passed the initial hurdle of assembling a story, reporters face another tough task – to find a means of transmitting their copy from the battlefield back to their base. A prime example is the difficulties experienced by television journalists with the British Task Force during the sailing to the Falklands islands in 1982. They had to be winched by helicopter on to ships equipped with the satellite telephone system that enable them to send only ‘voice pieces’ back to London.

As a solution to this restricted accessibility, one of the few options available to media is to be a part of the ‘news pools’ or be ‘embedded’ within the military.

Attached / Participatory/ Something-must-be-done Journalism

As opposed to the tradition of war reporting of ‘detached, uncommitted, neutral “bystander journalism”’, the war reporter is no longer a spectator, but an active participant – taking sides with the victims, to defend good against the evil, and to demand of governments and international agencies that ‘something-must-be-done’.

Ex-BBC correspondent Martin Bell (1997) believes that ‘this journalism cares as well as knows’, and sees journalism as a moral enterprise governed by an idea of right and wrong’; particularly since the journalist as an actor can influence the outcome of the events he reports and ensure that ‘good’ prevails.

This endangers the fundamental principles of journalistic practices. Instead of analysing the causes of a conflict holistically, reporters commit themselves to take either of, only two sides.

“These (war reporters) see fit to set themselves as the Solomons of the cyberage … to make instant yet final judgements as to who or what constitutes ‘the original sin and the unsullied virtue’ in the world. But in going down that road they are entering a journalistic minefield. Good and evil are moral absolutes, and those who deal in that language can allow no room for the scepticism, nuance or critical questioning that are the working tools of good journalism.”

These apprehensions are justified when one considers claims that even as they “commented” on the Serbian atrocities, most British journalists never actually met the Serbs, but trusted rumours and at times, chose to ignore or distort the evidence that countered their own moral crusade. For instance, Washington Post journalist Peter Maass who insisted that 100 000 people were killed during his two-year stint in Sarajevo later admitted that he personally saw only one corpse – of an elderly lady who died of cold in an old people’s home.

Critics of this 'something must be done' school of journalism argue that whether to use the media to promote a particular issue for influencing public opinion is an ethical question. The need to do this should not only be justified ethically, but the reporters also need to be sure of facts. Else, it would not be journalism, but propaganda - a means of conducting social work using mass media. Journalism critically examines and reports ‘newsworthy’ facts, rather than push ideas.

If such kind of journalism disregards objectivity, where the journalist ‘chooses’ to commiserate with any of the conflicting parties, then the reverse side of the same coin is the newly emerged form of censorship by the military: embedded journalism.

Military Factors

Press Pools & Embedded Journalism

To create a media-military liaison during conflicts, press pools accompanied the military during the operations in the Falklands War, the US invasions in Grenada and Panama (during the 1980s), the Gulf War I (1990-91) and in Afghanistan in 2001.

Though apparently favourable to the media, such a system had its limitations. Very few pool reporters witnessed the actual combats as they were constantly accompanied by military escorts who warned pool members against violating guidelines, barred them from places that might have been ‘intrusive’, and officially censored press stories before transmission.

Matters were worse for independent journalists (those outside the pool) as they risked getting detained, lost, captured or killed.

But this masterstroke by the politico-military think tank paid rich dividends, as it divided the media itself, as media organizations fought amongst themselves to secure top pool slots. Such division itself was an assault on the freedom of expression; some believed, as smaller organizations found it difficult to find their representatives alongside the media forces.

Another threat to objectivity was the problem of ‘identification with the military causes’ by the media. This problem continues as the new concept of embedded journalism is being practiced in modern wars.

By the second Gulf War in 2003, the Pentagon had realized the virtues of the concept of ‘embedded journalism’, whereby journalists have been ‘embedded within specific military units. This has provided the war reporters substantial safety and unprecedented access to the battlefield. However for journalists, the concerns extend beyond safety.

Reuters, editor in chief, Geert Linnebank admits, “…news executives had an added ethical dimension to contend with: They had to weigh the advantages of access to the Iraqi battlefield against a fear that embedding can be used to control media coverage…you either accepted the deal or you missed the action. So we bought in, but with the understanding that some of our reporters would be used by the Pentagon to cast the war in a favorable light and that we would have to take steps to offset that fact.”
The threats that embedded journalism poses are manifold.

· Means of editorial control:

By exercising censorship, the political administration manages to subtly shape mass opinion using embedding. The embedded reporters have to adhere to pre-determined rules while report on the actions of the soldiers they are living with. They are contractually bound by restrictions about when and what they can report; the reasons cited - the protection of national security.

Consequently, the details of military actions can only be described in general terms, and the journalists are refrained from revealing any possible future missions, about classified weapons and other information they discover. In extreme circumstances, the Pentagon has granted the commander of an embedded journalist's unit - the power to prohibit the reporter from filing stories via satellite connections.

Another noteworthy factor is that the reporters were ‘officially’ embedded with ‘only one side’ of the conflict. For instance, in Iraq, they have not been officially embedded with Iraqi families, humanitarian agencies, or anti-war groups, the way they were included in military units. Though reporters have interviewed ordinary Iraqis, experts independent of public relations-administration think tanks, peace activists, or European and Arabic journalists, military authorities did not initiate such associations.

· Distorted vision:

In the need for speed, and with the confidence of physically being a witness, there have been cases that the embedded reporters transmitted inaccurate information.
While applauding the ‘embedded journalism’ experiment as ‘historic, the U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield had cautioned, “What we are seeing is not the war in Iraq; what we're seeing are slices of the war in Iraq. We're seeing that particularized perspective that that reporter or that commentator or that television camera happens to be able to see at that moment, and it is not what's taking place."
Unfortunately, Rumsfield’s estimations were not unfounded. The PBS network, on its website, quotes the following example:

“… embedded correspondents for several news organizations reported seeing a convoy of up to 120 Iraqi tanks leaving the southern city of Basra, and most news outlets reported a large troop movement. The next day, a spokesman for the British military said the "massive movement" was really just 14 tanks.”

· “In-bed” journalism?

Critics of embedded journalism fear that the reporters may become victims of the ‘Stockholm syndrome’ and start ‘identifying’ with their military co-habitants.

Morrison and Tumber (1988 p. 97) quote the example of the Falkland Islands war coverage where ‘the result was that journalist shared the moods of the troops through collective experience’ and ‘felt affinity for the troops, a mutual determination to see the venture through to the end.

Though reporters endeavour to be objective in their coverage, it is a different proposition when their own life is at stake, especially when both, the troops and the media are under the enemy line of fire. The kinship on the battlefield can influence the reporters’ dispatches.

The Time magazine (Europe) cites the stir caused in the journalistic circles when prominent NBC reporter Brian Williams said that the troops he spent time with "are incredibly trained and motivated, and we are grateful to them."
Thus, unintentionally, the reporters may abet the military in its determined propaganda campaign against the opposition.
And when there are hundreds of such embedded journalists on one side (the army), this effect of biased reporting is quite substantial.

The problems with objectivity

All the above factors, in various ways, affect a war journalist’s ability to report objectively. But ironically, our search for the causes of casualty of truth come full circle at a point to realize that there are problems relating to the notion of objectivity itself.

Objectivity prescribes undistorted presentation of facts without ‘opinionating’ or ‘editorializing’ the news content. But most of the time, these ‘facts’ are ‘official’ facts; facts provided by officials within the government machinery. In effect, rather than gaining independence from political influence, objectivity creates a highway for dissemination of ‘official’ information, making news content vulnerable to manipulation.

Journalists see themselves as performing an active role in the society, as being capable of shaping histories, rather than just helplessly chronicling it. Seib (2002, p.8) questions the need to practice journalism at all, if it fails to provide information that is not thought provoking. Reporters have to choose between objectivity, and the higher ‘truth’ that they intend to uphold. For this, journalists see opinion and analysis as a serious dimension of reporting. For others, objectivity has stripped them of their creativity and passion for writing, transforming news writing into a technical process, than an intellectual one.


War reporters, over the years, have been caught in a maze of several inter-related factors that have hindered their abilities to report the truth. The factors pervade through all the realms within which the reporters operate – personal, professional or political.

As ‘Figure 1’ shows, even if they manage to overcome the determining factors in one sphere, they will cross into another sphere that will affect their ability to report the truth.

The factors share symbiotic or parasitic relationships. For e.g. the military and the Governments need the media to proliferate their propaganda or generate favourable public opinion; conversely, the media needs the Government and the Military to provide them the editorial content (through informative or physical access to conflict zones). The media can sway public opinions through its news coverage, while the Governments can place restrictions on the coverage itself through exercise of legal policies.

Where access is permitted, it would hamper portrayal of truth due to factors like embedded journalism, as journalists may empathize with the military. But such access itself would lead to distortion of truth due to censorship of the media content by the military.

The reporters have to balance between being patriotic on the one hand, and being professional on the other. Their dispassion brings them accusations of treason, and their emotional outbursts bring them criticisms of being crusaders.
High costs and security are a prime concern for all the three players: the Governments want all the information about the conflicting rivals while protecting their strategic secrets and preventing losses of men and ammunition, the organizations who run their news channels 24x7 have to protect their staff stationed in war zones, while keeping an eye on their surmounting bill claims from the battlefield; and the reporters have to worry for their own safety, but still keep an eye on the ‘big scoop’ story, even if it means secretly capitalizing on the information gained from the conflict areas.
Thus, it is evident that all parties are driven by their own vested interests, and this is the foremost reason that the casualty of truth will keep taking place. This is by no means to suggest that the war reporters are innocent victims of circumstances. But, it is now easier to understand why the father of war reporting, William Howard Russell, addressed himself father of ‘a luckless tribe’ .
Highlights of the Casualty of Truth over the years: (post-Vietnam era)
Factor causing the casualty of truth Major conflict in which this cause was prominently observed


This article has taken a ‘broader’ perspective of the issue addressed by attempting to enumerate most of the several factors that cause casualty of truth, studying their inter-relationships and placing the war correspondent in context of each factor. An alternative approach could be to concentrate on specific conflicts and wars and attempt to identify only a few reasons that cause casualty of truth, and delve ‘deeper’ into those few reasons in context of those particular wars.


Books/ Papers

(In Alphabetical Order)

· Boyd-Barrett, Oliver, 2004. Understanding The Second Casualty. In Allen S. And Zelizer B. (Eds), 2004. Reporting War: Journalism In Wartime. London : Routledge, pp.25-41

· Carruthers, Susan L., C2000. The Media At War. Basingstoke, New York: Macmillan

· Futehally, Ilmas and Shaheen, Fauzia, 2001. Weapons Of War Or Purveyors Of Peace? Print Media In India And Pakistan. Mumbai: International Centre For Peace Initiatives

· Hallin, Daniel C., 1989, C1986. The "Uncensored War": The Media And Vietnam. Berkeley: London, University Of California Press

· Hume, Mick, 1997. Whose War Is It Anyway? The Dangers Of Journalism Of Attachment. London: Bm Informinc

· Knightley, Phillip, 2003. The First Casualty, The War Correspondent As Hero, Propagandist And Mythmaker From The Crimea To Iraq - Introduction By John Pilger, London: Andre Deutsch

· Philo, Greg and Berry, Mike, 2004. Bad News from Israel, London, Ann Arbor: Pluto

· McLaughlin, Greg, 2002. The War Correspondent , London: Pluto

· Seib, Philip, C2002. The Global Journalist: News And Conscience In A World Of Conflict. Lanham, Md.; Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield

· Thussu, Daya Kishan, 2003. Live TV And Bloodless Deaths: War, Infotainment and 24/7 News. In Thussu, Daya Kishan And Freedman Des (Eds), 2003. War And The Media: Reporting Conflict 24/7. London: Sage, pp. 117- 148

· Tumber H., 2004. Prisoners Of News Values? Journalists, Professionalism, And Identification In Times Of War. In Allen S. And Zelizer B. (Eds), 2004. Reporting War: Journalism In Wartime. London: Routledge, pp. 190-205


· Rai Ajai K., Conflict Situations And The Media: A Critical Look, Strategic Analysis: A Monthly Journal Of The Idsa, June 2000 (Vol. Xxiv No. 3) (Institute Of Defence And Strategic Analysis, India)

URL: Http://Www.Ciaonet.Org/Olj/Sa/Sa_Jun00raa01.Html
Access Date: 25th November 2005
· Ethical Conduct In The Practice Of Journalism: The UK Experience Presentation To Horizon 2010 Seminar, British Council, Harare July 5th 1999

URL: http://www.mediasupport.org/Documents/papers_and_articles/ethical.htm
Access Date: 22nd December 2005
· Counteract drawbacks of ‘embedded’ reporters. USA Today Online, March 31, 2003:

URL: http://www.keepmedia.com/pubs/USATODAY/2003/03/31/.

[Article is no longer available on the site now: However, full article (soft copy) is available with this essayist.]
Access Date: 11th December 2005
· Lehrer J.: Pros and Cons of Embedded Journalism, 3/27/03,


Access Date: 25th December 2005

· Ledbetter, Jim - Two Cheers for Embedding


Access date: 11th December 2005

· Stockholm Syndrome: Wikipedia (Access date: 5th January 2006)
URL: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_syndrome

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Sunday, 1 July, 2007

Is Orkut affecting adolescents?

The Orkut website has been in news lately, with the Shiv Sena vandalising cybercafes in Kalyan, on the outskirts of Mumbai. Apparently, they were protesting against certain hate-communities on the website which allegedly contained derogatory material about Shivaji and the Shiv Sena supremo, Bal Thackeray’s family. Community-websites like Orkut have been accused of being guilty of allowing, if not promoting avenues for slander. Recently, a bunch of school students of the Bombay Scottish School in Mumbai posted derogatory comments against their School Principal.

These are issues in the public-social domain, but there are more serious, probably inconspicuous effects of community-websites like Orkut that need attention.

It must be noted here, that this article does not dismiss nor challenge the exciting and positive functions of a website like Orkut. Orkut, for the purposes of this article has been used as a generic term, and any mention of the site is intended to cover all community-websites in the nature of Orkut.

My greatest concern is for youngsters, adolescents whose primary parameter of self-image is their peer settings. Traditionally, in a country like India, youngsters' social perception of themselves have been based on how well they look, their academic performances, their proficiency in sports, communication skills, fine and performing arts and probably, their general knowledge.

But now, with the advent of the media and consumerism in enormous proportions, the basis on which adolescents may determine their self-perception amongst their peers, is likely to be based on a different plane all together. With the easy access to and availability of images and products that were once only representations of the ‘Western’ sensibility and lifestyle; the greatest means of being ‘accepted’ and ‘belonging’ to the ‘perceived society’ out there, is your cool-hot quotient. You either gotta be ‘cool’ or ‘hot’.

And perhaps, it is this grey area in which websites like Orkut may have a detrimental effect of adolescents’ ideas of self-image; their urge to ‘belong’ may suck out young girls and guys of their distinct identities, and make them a part of a uniform mass. Rather than believing in and enjoying what they are, they are likely to chase a desire to be either hot, cool or both.

Let me explain.

As I said before, the intent of sites like Orkut is unquestionable and highly noble. Naturally, to bind ‘birds of a feather together,’ the sites require you to post a list of your attributes. That’s where it starts -the urge for ‘one-upmanship’. The basic human desire to flaunt his/her smartness, to convey how he/she carries her ‘attitude’ on his/her sleeves, how they care a damn about the world, how individualistic and unfazed they are by the constant appraisal that people make of them.

But the truth is, we care. All of them who quote the Bible of Individualism, The Fountainhead as their favourite book in a bid to sound like Howard Roark are in fact, absolutely unlike him. Roark really doesn’t care, he doesn’t seek ‘social sanction.’ An Orkut-user does.

The genuine joy of capturing moments as photographs on film has given way to an Orkut-driven photography, “This is my best snap, will go Orkut!” Spare a thought for all those not blessed with attractive bodies, features and faces. Spare a thought for adolescents again, now they will be appraised by millions of people worldwide. The ‘stunners’ have no problems posting all their photos on the album, the mediocre lot may actually go out and get a portfolio done as now there are people out there to evaluate them; the not-so-lucky ones suffice by posting their side-profiles; looking-left, looking-right. I even know of someone who posted his/her snap looking down. The idea is to draw more and more people to be ‘your friends.’

But aren’t friends supposed to accept you the way you are? Why this need to ‘convince’ them of your style and attitude; aren’t class and substance rather ‘personal’ characteristics that emerge when you meet someone, speak to them, experience them as individuals?

Imagine the mental turmoil of a fourteen-year old girl/ boy who is out there to impress his/her crush – he/she’s out there, registered on all ‘communities,’ from ‘Mozart to Metallica,’ from ‘Formula One to Football’ and from ‘Che Guevara to Cubism to Calvin & Hobbes.’

The best photos go in the profile/album; snaps that highlight his/her best physical characteristics or ‘cool’ or ‘hot’ “image”.

The addiction to add more and more ‘friends’ is stripping the hapless soul of peace and concentration. More friends mean greater appeal – they love me out there! More 'stars' mean higher peer acceptance!! Am I worthy of being only an 'acquaintance,' a good friend,' a 'best friend,' or am I a plain 'nobody'?

The open e-mail account called ‘scraps’ has anyway, stripped him/her of privacy – everything’s bare now. Scrap fast, scrap ‘smart (more sarcastic, more caustic than the one who scrapped you) – show him ‘his/her place!’ Have a personal vendetta against you? Scrap it on Orkut, it'll be a while before you will be able to remove the scrap - welcome to a new form of blackmail. I have your photograph which might embarrass you, treat me well or I'll post it on Orkut!

The quest is to keep your image smart and smarter…and smarter…. and cooler…and hotter….

According to the website, Orkut has a simple mission – Orkut is an online community designed to make your social life more active and stimulating. Orkut 's social network can help you maintain existing relationships with pictures and messages, and establish new ones by reaching out to people you've never met before.

Undoubtedly, go out – interact, enjoy, make lifelong associations. I know a few couples that met through Orkut and have now vowed to spend their rest of their lives together. But, they were slightly older and mature.

I come back full-circle to argue the same contention I started with. What about those on the puberty-curve? Is too much of socialisation, actually depriving them of being their natural selves?

Spare a thought…

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Friday, 22 June, 2007

Let's get talking!!

Welcome to Café Rashomon!

First post: Café Rashomon started posting on July 1, 2007!

Café Rashomon aims to share stories & concerns about people & places and encourages its readers to present their multiple perspectives about events and happenings around us - social, cultural, religious, economic, political; simply everything! The blog derives its name from Akira Kurosawa’s seminal film, 'Rashomon,' wherein different people present entirely different, yet equally plausible accounts of the same event.