Chennai floods: Is national media ‘national’?

Image courtesy: Indian Army

Incessant rains for the past 11 days in Tamil Nadu have left behind nothing but wrack and ruin, especially in the capital city Chennai. It is being termed as the worst rains in the southern state in nearly 100 years, killing as many as 188 people in rain-related incidents.

Dorms, schools, hospitals and airports are flooded and water is neck-deep in low-lying parts of Chennai to the extent that Army’s assistance was sought to rescue the marooned people and deal with the unprecedented natural disaster.

In their hour of tragedy, Chennaiites have come out in large numbers to help the people in need by opening the doors of their homes, malls and offices to strangers and offering them food, shelter and even mobile recharges.

However, the Indian media cuts a sorry figure here by virtue of their lack of action in the crisis.

The apathy of India’s national media has come to the fore, for until this day none of our so-called ‘national news channels’ found the disaster in the state worth covering and reporting.

The people in Tamil Nadu are outraged and furious over the Indian media largely based in Delhi and Mumbai for their apparent callousness and lack of concern towards the tragedy of fellow Indians.

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A resident of Chennai penned an open letter to ‘National News Channels’, excoriating them for conspicuously ignoring the disaster in Tamil Nadu and instead focusing on intolerance debate, Sheena Bora murder case and other issues which could be relevant but not as important as the floods in Chennai that have claimed so many lives.

“I have seen several times in the past when toll-free numbers are set, relief materials collected by each of your channels etc but cannot see the word Chennai floods even in the breaking news section which in any case is breaking a lot of news which are irrelevant. It’s perfectly fine if you don’t cover this news but for heaven sake don’t call yourselves national news channel by any means,” Sujith Kumar posted on Facebook.

The point worth chewing over here is whether or not the events taking place outside the borders of New Delhi deserve as much attention by the media. If it’s not the case, the Delhi-based 24/7 channels should stop calling themselves ‘national news channels’ as they are more into misleading the masses, instead of highlighting the issues faced by the people of the remotest parts of the country.

A mere look at the political map of the country makes it clear that Kashmir is as much a part of India as Delhi is and therefore, the floods in Assam should get as much reportage as floods in Mumbai.

Contrast this with the disastrous, unflagging coverage of Nepal earthquake by the Indian media. The reporters belonging to reputed media houses were literally beseeched by the natives to leave them alone and go back to India considering their “insensitive” coverage of the crisis. #IndianMediaGoHome was the hashtag that trended on Twitter for a couple of days.

My mind also dwells on the media’s coverage of disastrous floods in Kashmir that claimed so many innocent lives, leaving behind wreck and ruin in 2014. The reporters invited the charge of being ‘embedded journalists’ by the locals for “trying too hard” to portray Indian Army personnel as heroes instead of focusing on the plight on the people marooned in the flooded parts of the Himalayan state.

And when there were floods in Assam earlier this year, none of the news channels reported on the tragedy that left hundreds of people dead and lakhs stranded; the sheer scale of the natural disaster deserved more than the lip service. It is as though the North East and southern states of India do not exist for the ‘national’ media based in Delhi and Mumbai.

The big question here is this: if our national news channels, both English and Hindi, can give so much airtime to the earthquake in a neighboring country, namely Nepal, then what stops them from giving due attention to the plight of their fellow Indians in North East and south India.

I feel ashamed to write this being a part of the industry, but let the Truth be spoken. We have totally got our priorities wrong here.