Saturday, 29 November, 2008


Its Over!

Two days of mayhem. When ten, maybe more individuals who seemed to have planned rather well, and had access to some high power weapons. And then, with a bit of guts, and a city that wasn't prepared, and they managed to hold up life.

As did those individuals who had a few stones, no plans, and only broke some taxi windshields. Yes, even they held up life in Mumbai not too long ago.

A lot of people are asking why the Government couldn't prevent this, or why security forces were so unprepared? I think the same terrorism strategy used here over the past days, could have been used in just about any city in the world. No security force in the world can prepare for this. Or prevent it. Anywhere.

But on 11/26, while the security forces excelled at their job, the news channels disappointed. None of them had access to technology that's so easy to get. None of their reporters had helmets or bullet-proof vests - costing a few hundred dollars.
Or some other technology that could have differentiated their coverage. Like...

High resolution cameras. HD is quite easily accessible and can produce detailed images. Even the transmission was so compressed in parts that one got the impression one was watching YouTube.

Long lenses. In cricket matches, the camera is in the stands but can take tight close ups of batsmen and fielders. These kid of cameras can take viewers closer to the action, but yet no news channel seems to have one. Surely they could have hired one. After all, there was a ODI series under way, so many such cameras were around.

Buffered recording. In terrorism situations, events can happen without warning, and one almost always rolls the camera late. But there are cameras that are always rolling in 'round-robin' fashion and when you actually start recording, the last 1-5 minutes are kept.

High angle views. Camera cranes that rise up to 50 feet in the air, are easy to hire and deploy. There are many in Mumbai. and these would have afforded safe and high angle views, which could even have helped security forces.

Rover and Helicopter cams. Remote controlled rovers running off rechargeable batteries can crawl close to the action without endangering the camera crew. These can even give security forces a close look without having to actually send a man there.

Remote controlled mini copters too can rise many hundreds of feet and get close to the action in a high rise building. These are small and silent and hard to shoot back at. Both the helicopter and the rover can be fitted with night-vision cameras.

Glass shields. Camera crew standing even hundreds of metres away could easily have been hit by stray bullets from terrorists or even the security forces. Glass shields standing on tripods placed in front of the camera offer protection from bullets and flying shards and shrapnel.

Mini-boom cameras. Mini cameras, even HD cameras that are fitted inside stumps or race cars, can easily be boom mounted so the camera crew don't need to stand on a platform for a high angle. These can even be used in hard to reach interview situations, or to 'peek around the corner' in a bullets-flying situation.

Boom-mikes. Why do TV reporters have to hand carry mikes and thrust them in the speaker's face. The entire movie industry records sound with boom mikes. They get you close and produce great sound.

Solar generators. News channels had vans running of mini generators. When parked together this makes a huge roar. In a sun-blessed country like ours, can't they use silent power like solar? There might even be a situation in the future when security forces order the generators off just so they can hear better.

At the end of the day, this whole thing was converted into a long reality show by news channels. Great for TRPs. A new spectator sport. So I say, if its just that why not equip yourself well to give the viewer a better view of the action.

Horrific it is all right. Some may even say it glorifies crime and makes us insensitive. Does that stop anyone from airing it? I think these kind of events if televised correctly actually help in generating public opinion. Maybe that's what we need to fight this war.


  1. Hi Neil

    Glad to see that you were not caught up personally in these recent tragic events. Couple of comments in regards to your musings on the news coverage.

    You mention none of the reporters wore helmets or bullet-proof vests ... that is alarming, and especially telling as foreign news teams on the scene would certainly have had them.

    High resolution cameras. Chances are that at least some of the acquisition, even local acquisition, was done in HD (if for no other reason than for future archive purposes). You're right of course that HD is quite easily accessible and can produce detailed images, but if there is no HD distribution then you'll not see it at home. Even were there HD distribution you still have to get that footage from the scene of the events back to the broadcast centre and if thats happening via a live sat link, microwave or what have you, then you'll need at least double the uplink and downlink bandwitdh capabilities, which may simply not be available. And of course, in News the content is always the most important factor ... if the only image you have of something is from a web feed, mobile phone or some other poor quality source then so be it. Any image is a good image if its the only one you got!

    Rover and Helicopter cams ... I think you have to bear in mind that ultimately you're restricted by what you're allowed to do by the security forces responsible for controlling the situation ... you can't just start sending in remote controlled cams or flying over the scene in a helicopter. If the security forces say "no" then no it is.

    On the other points like setting up and using large cranes, long lenses and boom-mikes for vox pops(!) well, news as entertainment may be a sad reflection on our society but the movie industry it is not! News crews have to be lean and mean and able to react instantly, especially so within a very volatile and hostile environment, so I'm not sure a comparison is realistic or appropriate.

    I just spent the last few days watching the terrible events in Mumbai unfold, and I heartily congratulate the NDTV team on some great reportage that far outshone anything the international networks were putting out.
    Seriously, they did a good job, Neil, so don't be too down on them!

    With very best regards

  2. Andy,

    I agree with your comments on what is appropriate for the occasion equipment wise. Especially with respect to remote and helicopter cams.

    And even I felt the NDTV coverage was good as was the one from Times Now.

    On names and locations, though many goofed up. CNN for example showed a downright wrong map location on TV as well as on the site. I even wrote them on that, and hope they corrected it. You never know, someone somewhere may make a travel decision based on what they saw on a news map.

    My intent was not to down news people, just to ponder and help 'push the envelope'. I sincerely believe that even though news channels go the whole hog in such situations, its always better to have too much information than too little. One day we'll lick terrorism. When we can 'see' better, we can think better so we can stand up to it.

    Terrorism is global now, and hopefully this will unite the good forces in the world. Good news can make good news.


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