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MEDIA, MASK AND SWINE FLU

-By Sanjay Jha

MAIN AZAD HOON!

Poor Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. If he thought the Kashmir issue was an intractable Himalayan challenge as the Chief Minister of J&K , the Mexican import swine flu has turned out to be a monstrous one, as things stand today. Frankly, he has found himself between the snarling devil and the swirling blue sea. Albeit Azad has moved rather swiftly after a typical laid-back bureaucratic start, he needs to understand that when there is public paranoia rampant in the air, statistics do not provide the healing touch. I thought his rather academic prediction that 33% of Indians will experience the mysterious swine-flu just as a fear psychosis gripped the air was rather tactless and further fuelled apprehensions, even if that estimation may be a distinct possibility. He should have also realized that we are talking about a billion plus country, where every basis point means lakhs of people. We all know that Britain fears 40% infection levels, even as the Costa Rican President has just been afflicted with it as well.
Azad is well advised to exercise restraint, be thoroughly prepared with facts and statements and make a daily media briefing on the subject till the initial outbreak is drastically controlled. But above all it is about execution— that is the bottomline.

SIGN OF THE TIMES ( NOW)

On the swine flu coverage, the qualitative difference between print media and electronic channels is as clear as chalk and ink. While almost all daily newspapers have done a first-rate job, most TV channels have expectedly accentuated the ” fear factor”. It is pitiable. I don’t want to comment on the Hindi channels ( barring NDTV India) which are in any case on a regular overdose of the hyperbole pill. But the biggest disappointment has been Times Now which plays a sinister background music score from the Ram Gopal Verma Factory production or something everytime there is a commercial break. It is downright repugnant. And almost all of them are making a daily scorecard of the unfortunate victims as the first news item, which is an insensitive upload for cheap brownie points.
As Woody Allen said, ” television has improved my mind a lot—it has raised my level of taste to the point where I no longer watch it”. I know of several people who have actually switched off the gross exploitation of this health scare by most channels.
Please do inform the ordinary man , but there is a fine balance between a pandemic awareness campaign and an information overload. This is a testing moment for professional journalists moral conscience as they must be responsible first, competitive later.
NDTV has so far done a fine job, and it was good to see CNN IBN do a more-optimistic, encouraging program of those kids who tested positive but have recuperated and were cheerfully chatting away. It was an honest refreshing change.

THE LESSONS FROM THE FLU

  1. The UPA government must treat the swine flu as a serious wake-up call and after rightfully targeting education, it is about time we started to look at investing massively in our public health system. Right now, it is appalling to say the least. I think our rulers in Delhi think that all general government hospitals are like the AIIMS. Since we are following the USA eco-model, our politicians need to recognize that the single biggest election issue in Washington is health-care.
  2. Will our great Corporate India please rise and shine and instead of lobbying for financial benefits, do some work for the common man and make some charitable donations from there overflowing coffers? After all how many private aircrafts, multi-storey private homes and IPL teams can one own? At the time of writing, not a SINGLE company has voluntarily offered any support to the government which could do with some operational, management, and financial fillip.
  3. Will the BMC stop using immature tactics such as taking SMS polls from hepless families to decide on whether schools should be open or closed? When the entire community is feeling stressed they look for inspired and fearless leadership, not some cowardly measures for passing the buck and appearing cosmetically participative.
  4. The government MUST create an official high-powered Cabinet Team ( including other relevant Ministers such as Civil Aviation , HRD, Information and Broadcasting and Home headed by Azad) so that there is a multi-pronged approach to resolve issues at the highest level and collective decision-making . It will enhance coordination quality and increase public confidence. The latter is the need of the hour.
  5. As for us all , the swine-flu is (after the frightful 26/11) another reminder that finally hatred, disease, terrorism , climate-change, traffic congestion, tsunami and potholes do not care whether we wear Jimmy Choo shoes or Bata’s Hawai chappals. Or talk on Blackberry Storm or the fake Chinese mobile phone. Or eat at the Zodiac Grill or just stare at the magnificent Taj Mahal Hotel in awe from the Gateway of India.

To beat the oppressive menace of the swine flu what India needs to do is to think about the others , the neighbors, colleagues, employees, community etc whether through calming words of reassurance , creating awareness, offering any assistance or being extremely responsible oneself. The swine flu fears will surely pass away soon but India’s ability to handle that with collective mature resilience must now truly show itself.

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2 Comments on MEDIA, MASK AND SWINE FLU

  1. Kalyan S. Bose // August 12, 2009 at 12:08 pm // Reply

    Well said Sanjay ! Both our Govt and the media should behave responsibily.

    After the ‘sensational and almost gingoistic coverage of 26/11, the electronic media (barring a few)has once again demonstrated its utter lack of self restraint and professionalism.

    The only other sane voice in the print media I came across was in the form of Economic Times dt. 11/08(for a change) exhorting all the readers and giving reasons ‘NOT’ to panic.

    It’s high time the media learn its basic lessons and accept its responsibility to be a voice of reason.

  2. Your comment on the pathetic performance of Mr. Azad is apt and timely. One fails to understand why a seasoned politician can be so insensitive to the anguish and sense of panic of millions of his countrymen. In such situations of mass panic, one does not have to be clinically correct on statistics, even if one is correct, which is doubtful. Congress Party must teach its ministers a lesson or two.

    This is, as if, disaster on Baluchistan was not enough.

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