Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On self-aggrandizement and over indulgence

As I See It Column
The Independent
10 September, 2011

As I was flipping through the uncounted private TV channels during the recent Eid holidays with my remote control, I inadvertently stopped in one channel that recently came into highlight because of the death of its CEO. The TV channel was covering live its correspondents in a get together with the public on the occasion of Eid ul Fitr. The correspondents and workers of this TV channel were mingling with the public in front of the national parliament.

What was covered during the few minutes I watched made me reflect upon the momentous events of the last few weeks. I watched in amazement unbelievable self-aggrandizement. The programme on which this self-aggrandizement took place was the regular news of the channel. The newscaster, a lady, brought her colleagues mingling with the public in the front of the parliament into conversation with her for the benefit of those watching.

One correspondent told the newscaster that the public he interviewed were telling him that she looked like a film star. Another correspondent told the newscaster that for their news editor’s great popularity, the public were willing to pay money to have a picture taken with her! He called this news editor a “celebrity journalist” and hence unable to come live on the programme because her “fans” would not let her!

This same channel had caught the imagination of the country by the way it covered the news of its late editor. As I watched this programme, I wondered whether it was the same channel that had covered for many days at the stretch about the death of Mishuk Munir. If they were so moved with his death, how come they forgot all the sadness to indulge in laughter and frolic so soon after the tragedy? It did not seem fair.

I hope I am not misunderstood by my readers. I did not know Mishuk Munir except that he was the son of one whom I consider a giant in the literary annals of our country. Mishuk Munir’s father Munir Chowdhury was outstanding in his field, drama and literature. I remember a TV interview on BTV in which the late Utpal Dutta referred to Munir Chowdhury’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew for BTV as so outstanding that there was no way to understand that it was a translation and not an original creation.

After Mishuk’s death, the channel where he was CEO was able to establish that he was a worthy son of his great father. Watching the channel unfold his life, I was convinced with all who watched that we had lost a great son of the country who earned the love and respect of everyone in the channel where he worked with his genius and his humility. Now that those who helped us understand his life and cry for him are ready to enjoy and laugh, I guess it is time to raise a few issues in order to take lessons for the future.

Despite his greatness, would Mishuk Munir’s death have had so much exposure had he not been the CEO of the station? His death was not a national event for this channel to leave aside everything and spent days covering the after events of his death as if there was no other news. In their over indulgence in grieving his death, the channel exposed its lack of balanced coverage because an equally great son of the country, if not more, Tareque Masud ,was given only a small part of the coverage that was given to Mishuk Munir. The sad thing, now knowing Mishuk Munir thanks to this channel, he would have been the first to disagree with this over indulgence in the coverage of his death for unlike those in his channel who shed those tears for him, he was matured and balanced.

Mishuk Munir and Tareque Masud died in an accident. You and I could die in the same manner tomorrow because our highways are death traps and unfit for a country that can call itself civilized. The 43 students in Mirarsarai died in more tragic circumstances a month or so ago. Their deaths ended with a footnote, even by this TV station that had unlimited time to cover the death of its CEO.

Not for a moment do I not doubt the good intentions of the TV station. Their grievance was genuine. But in their eagerness to show their grief just because they had the media to use at will, they made a number of major mistakes. They lacked the professionalism, maturity and objectivity for becoming a great TV channel that their late CEO wanted them to be. They misused their channel.

In their over indulgence, they dramatized a very serious issue. The Prime Minister pointed to a few of these. She asked those who have taken the attack on the government as a result of the deaths to take a look at their own role in what is happening on the roads. We all believed that the driver of the killer bus was a murderer mainly because of this channel. We absolved the driver of the microbus that carried those who died of any responsibility. It was extremely insensitive of the Minister who went to see Katherine Masud to tell her that the microbus driver was at fault. In retrospect, the Minister was not entirely wrong.

The Prime Minister was also right in pointing to the BNP for the conditions of the roads. She was however wrong in absolving her government of any responsibility. In fact, all governments since independence have contributed their parts to the horrendous condition of the roads today. They all lacked the vision for building roads infra structure of a newly independent country. They all contributed to the most systemic corruption to take roots in the communications sector. They all looked the other way and allowed a nexus of corruption to develop among those who control the roads that has allowed 60% of our drivers to hold fake licenses and become unlicensed killers on our highways!

There is a litany of more such well known corruption truths in the communications sector due to the government’s direct and indirect patronization. We all know about these truths. These have contributed to the deaths of Mishuk Munir and Tareque Masud, the 43 school children and many thousands over the years. The drama over the past few weeks notwithstanding, such deaths will continue because what we see today is the product of 40 years’ maladministration and corruption by the government and will not go away by the drama of a gathering at the Shahid Minar on Eid day.

It fact, it will never go away because it is the corrupt nature of our politics that sustains the murders on the roads. That corrupt nature is becoming more entrenched. The Government’s defense of the two Ministers at the height of public discontent should rest all hopes that the deep nexus of corruption would be touched. Let us instead talk about the self-aggrandizement of this TV channel. If they had any sense, they should not have had this Eid celebration with the public, not when thanks to them our hearts are still crying for Mishuk Muneer and Tareque Masud.

Just for reference and refreshing our memory, this channel made the same mistake during the coverage of the BDR carnage. For some time that day, thanks to this channel, we were convinced that the criminals and killers had done the right thing that day in Pillkhana by giving us “breaking news”.

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan and a columnist for The Independent.

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