A day after the bomb blasts in Mumbai this July, Red FM RJ Malishka is on air, explaining just how angry she is with the state government and the lapses in security. Her way of doing this is to call the Chief Minister’s office from the number listed on the official web site. What follows is something like this:
Attendant: Mukhyamantri office, namaskaar. (Chief Minister’s office, greetings).
RJ Malishka: Haan, mein Malishka bol rahi hoon, mujhe CM
saab se baat karni hain (Yes, this is Malishka speaking and I need to talk to the CM).
Attendant: Aap kis vishay mein phone kar rahen hain? (What issue are you calling about?)
RJ Malishka: Mein Mumbai shehar ki naagrik hoon, aur mujhe hamari CM
se baat karni hain. (I am a citizen of Mumbai and I have to talk to our CM).
Attendant: Vo abhi phone par nahin aa sakte hain, mein message le sakta hoon. (He cannot attend the phone right now, I can take your message).
Malishka: Par mujhe bombblast ke bare mein poochna hain.Mujhe puchna hain ki
Ye kya ho raha hain aur sarkaar kya karraheeen hain. (But I have to inquire about the bomb blast, I want to know what is happening and what is our Government doing about it).
Attendant: Haan par abhi saab busy hain. (Yes but he is busy right now).
Malishka: Dekha Mumbai, aapke CM-saab aap se baat bhi nahi kareinge! (See Mumbai, your CM would not even talk to you).
It doesn’t take a journalism degree to understand that a day after the bomb blast the Chief Minister certainly doesn’t have the time to answer phone calls from the residents of the city. Rather, if the Chief Minister answered RJ Malishka’s phone call without an appointment the day after bomb blasts in the city, he’d lose my vote. But maybe you need a journalism degree to understand the repercussions of broadcasting, to a very impressionable young audience, a message which implies that the state government is failing in its duties to its citizens because the CM hasn’t answered a call you made to him from your studio.
RJ Malishka is routinely found making such cold calls to several other bureaucrats and Government administrators. Malishka is believed to be the most popular RJ in the city so now her formula spreads. This morning, Radio Mirchi’s RJ Jeeturaj, who’s often heard spreading peace, love and unity in the city decided to call the Police helpline. But not on the “103”number they ask you to call on, but on the “7738133133”number they ask you to SMS on. He broadcasts the fact that he couldn’t get through to the “773” number and then dialled “103”, which someone answers on the first ring. He broadcasts the whole conversation including his multiple failed attempts when calling the SMS-only number. He says he’s calling from “Radio Mirch..errrr.. Times of India” and puts, to the Police responder (whom he’s called on the emergency 103 number), a hypothetical: “Agar mein ek ladki hoti (If I was a girl), jo call centre mein kaam kar rahi thi (who works in a call centre) aur ye raat ke teen baje the (and it was 3 o’clock at night), aur mujhe koi ladke ched rahe the (and some boys were abusing), to mujhe kahaan phone karna chahiye? (so where should I call?)”
The responder, very politely, replies: “103.” He proceeds to tell her that he’s been trying the “773” number that no one answered. She patiently informs him that the“773” number is for SMS only and “103” is for calls. She proceeds to reassure him that if he was a girl working in a call centre and was being teased by men at 3 in the morning, she would immediately dispatch a patrol vehicle to rescue him or her if he would just call 103.
The Police actually won brownie points with me for even entertaining RJ Jeeturaj’s questions. Yes, RJ Jeeturaj, you could complain that the Police should find a way to integrate both numbers to a common system. It’s an extremely valid argument. But to call an SMS-only number and broadcast the fact that your call didn’t go through and imply that this reflects police inefficiencies isn’t just unfair to the police, it’s irresponsible. Especially to listeners who are tuning in to listen to music and hear your opinion on things such as the weather.
There are, I am sure, listeners who have only heard half of your conversation and concluded, because of the implied tone of your voice, that the police helpline number is useless as no one picks up.
Now before the RJ Association of India objects to my opinion and asks how any journalist is more qualified to voice his or her opinion, let’s understand the inherent difference in the medium.
People proactively make a choice of purchasing a newspaper and dedicate their time to reading a publication that they want to. If you buy The Guardian in London, you know what you’re signing up for: you’re expecting to read opinions by people you have chosen to indulge. When you turn on the radio however, what you want, more than anything else, is music and jokes. When you hear the radio in elevators, hotel lobbies or your local grocery store, you are often forced to listen – and you don’t even know who you are listening to until the radio plays its jingle; very different from a newspaper or a television channel.
RJs like Jeeturaj and Malishka are popular for the songs they play, for the personality they bring on to the radio and the guests they have on their shows. Passively listening to them, you begin to recognize their voice and form some kind of trust with them. Similar to the connection you feel to TV news anchors and/or your favorite film and TV stars. It is therefore very important for these rather influential public figures to be responsible with their opinions.
The Government restricted news broadcasting on radio because it predicted RJ Malishka and RJ Jeeturaj’s antics. But, despite being a passionate supporter of a free press, I find myself thanking God for the fact that news on the radio is restricted to Prasar Bharati’s All India Radio. Otherwise, in the hands of RJ Malishka and others, all India would have gained is just another, irresponsible electronic news medium.