Sunday, 14 March 2010


A midshipman was being trained by a Captain on the art of breaking news. A telegram was received for one of the sailors that his father had expired. “Let me see you use your imagination”, the Captain told the snotty, “and break the news to the sailor in the most indirect fashion”. The midshipman went straight to the ship’s broadcast and announced, “Do you hear there? Do you hear there? This is the Midshipman of the Watch speaking. Seaman Kuldip Singh, your father has expired. I say that again: Seaman Kuldip Singh, your father has expired.”

This was really the most insensitive approach and the Captain immediately berated the Midshipman, who promised to do better next time. Another opportunity came his way within a week when a telegram was received about Radio Operator Manickam’s mother having passed away. This time the midshipman wasn’t going to make the same mistake. He had the complete Communications Division standing in a line on the quarterdeck. He addressed them about the importance of having parents. And then he told them, “All those whose mothers are alive, take a step forward.” Noticing Manickam he said, “Don’t be too sure, Manickam”!

Truly, there is a great art in breaking news, good or bad. However, the way our news channels are breaking news these days it is evident that news too has become a commodity to sell. Most of the breaking news items leave us wondering whose lives are being affected with that particular news, or if it is really news. Breaking news item should have an element of unexpected or at least out of the ordinary. Surely, if the whole world already knows about it or was expecting it, it can’t be breaking news. Let us consider the news worthiness of the following actual and imagined breaking news items:

• Such and such enquiry report constituted by the government finds no evidence of malpractice/corruption/conspiracy.
• Indian Hockey team returns from such and such championship without winning a medal.
• The American President is ready to solve the West Asia problem.
• Pak says they had no hand in the recent massacres in Kashmir; or, a captured Jihadi in Srinagar reveals he was trained in POK.
• The pollution levels of Indian cities reach dangerous limits.
• Minister says he will prove his innocence in “people’s court”.

Indeed, the everyday ritual of breaking news on news channels reminds you of other phrases starting with ‘breaking’ such as ‘breaking wind’, ‘breaking into song or dance’. An American was attending a dinner hosted by an English lady. Over the dinner table when she loudly broke wind, a gentleman on her right got up and said, “I am sorry, please excuse me.” The American was nonplussed until the etiquette (of not embarrassing the lady) was explained to him. So after an encore by the lady, the American did not wait for the gentlemen to the left or the right, but shot up from the seat and said, “This one is on me”!

We too would like to tell the news channels how horribly out of place their breaking news items are. The flaming hurry to somehow beat the other channels whilst breaking news would put even the American dinner – guest to shame.

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