Written by Kiran Yadav | Updated: Dec 1 2008, 05:10am hrs
It definitely must have been the worst reality show that Indians have ever watched. As the nation sat glued to their television sets through the past three days with baited breath, the indispensable role that information plays in our lives once again came to the fore. Sitting miles away from Mumbai, a person in Delhi thought twice before stepping out such was the effect of the terror images. To that extent the terrorist did succeed. With the incessant Breaking News and Exclusive tags on news channels they had managed to target the attention of a billion people the people, the policy makerseveryone. Democratic nations must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend, British premier Margaret Thatcher had said in the event of the attacks by Irish Republican Army.

News media, as the prime delivery mechanism, is indeed a weapon for the terrorists a toll to manage the perceptions of threat. EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report 2007 notes that altogether 498 attacks were carried out in EU in 2006. It also indicates at a coordinated global media offensive from Islamist terrorists. And how It says: The frequency of video statements by members of the original Al-Qaeda leadership and other Islamist terrorists shows a marked increase. The propaganda is of greater sophistication, of high quality and more professional. English is used more often, either in direct speech or in subtitles, allowing potential access to a wider audience than previous publications in Arabic.

Centre for Media Studies Lab has a potent question to raise: Are the news channels losing their credibility in the mad rush for TRPs Though they are yet to collate the coverage of the recent Mumbai blasts, their analysis of the past news coverage of terror attacks says: The Munich massacre during the 1972 Summer Olympics was probably the first terrorist incident to get live TV coverage. Near instantaneous coverage of terrorist attacks has since become the rule rather than the exception now The IC-814 hijack, attacks on the Srinagar Assembly, on Indian Parliament, Ayodhya attack, Delhi blasts, shooting at the Indian Institute of Science... What is not clear is whether TV journalists and editors are learning from their mistakes ... Channels need to avoid sensationalising an incident or saying things that can contribute to the uncertainty and fear that can follow a terrorist attack. They also have a responsibility to show restraint and sensitivity when identifying the casualties.

Impact of irresponsible coverage, least said, can be tremendous. A study published in a recent issue of Psychological Science, finds that for every hour of television viewed on Sept 11 with some respondents reporting in excess of 13 hours watched levels of stress, as indicated by dream content, increased significantly. The authors note as watching television replaces talking with others about such events, these undesired consequences may be amplified. In light of these findings, news broadcasters might consider whether repetitious broadcasting of traumatic images is actually in keeping with their goal of serving the public.

Definitely, a pertinent issue begging sincere consideration.