Current events have a tiresome predictability these days
There is a famous story about a reporter for the Indian Express’ Bombay edition in the 1980s. Asked to perform that most-boring of all tasks, report on an eclipse, he dashed off his copy within a few minutes and without waiting for the eclipse.He knew what happened at times of eclipse anyway. He wrote about how birds were frightened because they could not understand how night had come so early; how beggars asked for alms; how thousands took a holy dip, etc. etc. It was a good story, packed with detail.
The problem was that he got the date of the eclipse wrong. He filed his story a day early and clearly, the subs did not notice because it went into the paper as he had written it. The next day the Express had a scoop: an eclipse that nobody else knew about.
Obviously, all hell broke loose. Ramnath Goenka got involved. The reporter was suspended. And the editorial staff was told that they should wait for events to occur and not to file anticipatory copies.
Clearly, this was good advice. We are in the news business, not in the astrology business. We should not be filing stories based on what we think will happen and should restrict ourselves to reporting events after they take place.
But even so, when I read the papers these days, I often feel that I have read it all before and that an enterprising reporter can sit at home and write his stories because such is the dull predictability of current events.
1) You will know the monsoon perennial. This consists of a series of stories that are recycled every year. The first story reports on the municipality’s plan to clear the ditches and clean the drains so that there is no flooding this year during the monsoon. The second story consists of photographs of flooded roads (ideally with people in cars half-submerged) and shock-horror copy about how, despite the municipal promises, flooding did occur. The third story consists of the chief minister promising action.
2) Another tragic hardy perennial is the Naxalite-attack story which runs in a continuous loop these days. It goes something like this: home minister threatens all-out war against Maoists; Maoists attack those meant to be waging so-called all-out war and massacre 30; home minister blames human rights activists for going on TV and criticising him, home secretary joins chorus; Maoists threaten to repeat attacks; home minister promises all-out war against Maoists.
3) If you live in Delhi, then you will know the surplus power story. This has the following components: chief minister says Delhi has surplus power; residents of localities in West Delhi stage dharna because of 8-hour power cuts; chief minister says Reliance Energy is to blame; Reliance Energy admits to minor cable faults and says they have now been rectified; residents of South Extension say that power supply has been intermittent for three days with long power cuts; Reliance Energy does not answer its phone; chief minister says Delhi has surplus power.
4) And of course, here’s one that will run and run: PM says he is optimistic about peace with Pakistan; government hands fifth dossier to Islamabad about 26/11 attacks; Islamabad laughs at dossier; government sends sixth dossier; Islamabad says that dossier is fiction; government sends seventh dossier; Islamabad buys new shredder to handle tons of paper being sent by Delhi; PM says he is optimistic that Pakistan will take action against terrorists.
When events have this kind of tiresome predictability, I sometimes wonder why we bother to go out and report them. It’s the same thing all over again, month after month, year after year.