Dear news leaders, it is time to face the nation; we demand an answer tonight; this is the centre stage and the buck must stop here.
It has been for years now: frenzy, long waits, hundreds of press conferences, sound bites, digging documents from sources, millions of news flashes, overnight calls and travel for work, weeks away from home, eating by the roadside, and all that you might not imagine we go through while we are out there to bring you the TRPs.
Today we are pained, and we demand an answer, before you get too busy facing the nation on tonight’s show. We demand an explanation; the buck will have to stop here. Tarun’s death* has taken the centre stage.
Tarun is no more. He was one of us, out there on the field, clicking pictures for your cover page, just like we bring you stories for the primetime you are so proud of each evening and forget before the next weekly meeting you convene.
That 23-year-old shaheed-e-sahaafat has left for us a grim picture, one that he clicked with his eyes closed for ever, one that he clicked on his death bed: the last true picture he clicked for everyone.
We will ask you some petty questions in our journalism of courage, too small to even make it to a corner piece of our ad-ridden broadsheets or even a bulletin in our TRP-driven “holier than thou” profession.
To begin with, we would want you to go to your operations department and talk to the transport in-charge and check the cars you provide to your soldiers. Are they commercial vehicles? How many hours has the driver been driving? Is there an emergency medical kit in that car? By the way, is that car fit even to be on the road?
Now go to your HR/Finance section. Do they have a record of how many times your reporter has overworked? Have you paid him/her for that? Oh! You just paid him/her the per-diem when he went out of city. But did you pay him when he was out on the field outside a minister’s house for more hours waiting for a sound bite? Or did you bother to send a replacement? Did you ever despatch any food for him while he was on that story? Oh, you did that when Parliament was to begin its session, when the elections were on etc. But, for a poor reporter everyday is as big as any, because he lives it.
Do you know there are OB (outdoor broadcasting) engineers and drivers who are expected to drive the longest distances in the shortest possible time? Oh, why should we bother, we have them hired by a different company altogether.
Once upon a time, hundreds of reporters were despatched overnight to Bhatta-Parsol to question the alleged human rights violations by the State police. Hundreds of microphone-wielding soldiers braved those couple of nights, without food and water. The Rapid Action Force deployed by the State government was provided with food, water, and mosquito nets even as the reporters were soothing their pain inside OB-vans, and in their tiny Indicas. The only solace was the kachwa chaap agarbatis bought for hundreds of rupees pooled, to fight the life threatening mosquitoes. Yes the story was big, but there is nothing wrong in sending food and water. By the way, on the same night some of the reporters were asked to chase the ever-speeding Rahul Gandhi cavalcade.
This also reminds me, when was the last we examined those bullet-proof jackets meant for sensitive bureaus such as those in Kashmir? Have we purchased any proper riot gear for the sort of situations that often erupt in our country?
Oh yes, do you care for any medical exigencies that a reporter might have to face? Have you ever bothered if your reporter is trained for basic cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)?
I remember once a senior editor decided to teach young reporters steps of the CPR. The reporters were taken to a hospital and were taught how to do it, but then the lala ruled that it was a futile exercise for journalists and discontinued any such training for the rest of the teams.
How many times have you respected our right/decision to refuse an assignment?
And whenever you did, it has reflected in the next appraisal, and more often in next weekly meeting.
Many of us have faced situations where we had to work more than 13 hours for days together. Most journalists are forced to eat by the street. These sound like small issues but they do matter.
We wait outside the houses of Rajas, Tharoors, Gadkaris; we wait everywhere you ask us to, even knowing it might not fetch anything at the end of the day, for the love of this profession.
We do everything that you cannot do because your profile is too high for that.
You cannot walk into to an office and get those documents without getting noticed, because you are the face, you are very well known.
We can and we do, because we are only as big as our PTCs, bylines and live chats. No one remembers us (perhaps not even the bosses).
Journalists in our country, especially TV journalists, are the most exploited. It’s not that we are not willing to go that extra mile for a story. We know, it’s the call of duty. We might have to stretch ourselves at times, but not every day, not every hour, not every assignment. Unfortunately, it has turned into a daily affair. Journalism is fast turning into a life-threatening profession.
Now someone might tell us “we did it too when we were reporters”, but hello, you worked in a better environment, you belong to that generation when editors were not crazy about breaking news every moment. You were reporters when sanity prevailed; the times have changed for worse.
In this maddening race to make the lala happy we are not only killing journalism but journalists too. We know we have to come up to every occasion, report more rigorously at times and tell stories. But to tell that story one has to live first.
We are writing to you, knowing that you are our current and future employers and that is why we want to make it a better place to live and work in.
Let us respect each other and care for each other and only then will we emerge as a successful unit. After all, a television channel or a newspaper is not about one individual or a few, it is about everyone. Imagine an unhappy make-up man giving you a wrong touch up in between the break and making you look funny on the primetime!
* Tarun Sehrawat of Tehelka
Mohsin Mughal is a television journalist.