For those of you lucky enough to have missed out on last night’s live television coverage of the attack at Jinnah International Airport, let me inform you that TV journalism died yesterday.
What else would you call the broadcast of a national tragedy – a terrorist attack of this scale – presented in the form of a summer blockbuster film?
We know now that 13 security officials and PIA employees lost their lives to this horror. They were either dead or about to die when TV channel reporters were shrieking on their microphones with added sound effects and music in the background.
In marathon live transmissions battling each other for who-can-get-their-ratings-through-the-roof-first, news channel anchors and reporters went berserk, dropping even the veneer of civility to sell any and everything they could lay their hands on, to attract viewers.
Some reporters went from one body to another shouting:
Look at this, here’s an injured security official…And look at this one, he looks like he may be dead already.
News anchors were heard half-shocked, half-gloating:
We have just shown you live footage of a dead terrorist
We’re the first to break this news!
Our reporters were the first to tell you a plane has caught fire.
As one could expect in this god forsaken country, all of this was being broadcast alongside a parental advisory note labeled ‘not safe for kids’, and a statement reading “we are not letting journalistic ethics out of hand” in our coverage of this event.
God only knows what would happen if they did let "ethics" get out of hand.
With fire and smoke billowing in the background and inhuman voices screaming on mics, the one thing that just kept going up in this blockbuster was suspense.
If reporters could have had their way, I’m pretty sure they would have loved to set up a mic on a militant and ask him about the various motives and philosophy behind this attack, along with the operational game plan and the make and model of every bullet they intended to fire.
A lot of you may have heard by now that a certain channel compromised the security operation through their live feed which was giving away the security team’s location.
No wonder DG ISPR Asim Bajwa was forced to tweet:
Should we call all of this a joke? How do you even categorise this phenomenon?
IG Sindh Police seemed to have been in a similar dilemma when this happened:
Reporter: “How long will it take to wind up this operation?”
IG Sindh: “How am I supposed to answer such a ridiculous question? (Bhai ye kya ahmeqaana sawal hai?)”
A certain channel decided it was a great idea to get live updates from a passenger stuck in one of the planes.
Reporter: “Please update us on the situation around you.”
Passenger: “What can I say, I’m stuck here inside this plane just like all the other passengers. Your guess is as good as mine.”
Reporter: “Don’t worry, the terrorists will be captured soon.”
So when the reporter found the passenger couldn’t update him, he thought he might as well update the passenger instead?
All this while, for the larger part of the nation, sitting glued to their TVs in lounges, it seemed like a bomb was going off every 10 minutes because that was the kind of picture being painted.
Quite fittingly for a people stuck in the chronic debate of whether or not the government will go for an operation against the militants, last night saw several channels in conflict over reports of whether or not the airport security operation was over. Still others mindlessly droned on and on about whether the attack constituted "a security lapse".
One wonders what the word ‘report’ even means to these "journalists". Is it required of a report to have at least one semi-credible source? Because many channels had begun ‘reporting’, before any state body had even hinted at it, that the ammunition was of Indian make.
A relatively new entrant in the news channel arena fabricated a report that “terrorists had hijacked a plane”. Another was hell bent all night on a report that one of the planes had caught fire.
For five long hours, this was aired on TV before the DG ISPR was forced to tweet once again:
After which, the channel had the gall and shamelessness to say: “Well, the latest update is, no plane has caught fire.”
Or, in other words:
Just kidding, no plane has caught fire. We were simply being complete idiots for the last five hours.
Where is that thing called ‘PEMRA’ which calls itself a regulatory body? Can we have some action now?
Don’t we owe at least an apology to those who sacrificed their lives fighting for us last night? Imagine being their family and watching some nutcase show the dead body of your loved one while gloating, “we showed you this first!”
By the way, another tragedy happened yesterday: a bus carrying Shia pilgrims was bombed by terrorists in Taftan, near the Pakistan-Iran border. As many as 24 people died.
In sane countries, this would have been considered newsworthy. But on our channels, this news was mostly confined to tickers at the bottom of the screen, while most of the night was devoted to the ludicrous vomit-inducing video coverage of the airport attack.
TV journalism really seems dead in Pakistan. And remember, I’ve reported it first.