the science of shoe-throwing: New course for media schools
By Mayank Chhaya
Throwing shoes during news conferences is an extreme form
of editorialising which professional reporters must refrain
from, especially those who are a poor shot.
Jarnail Singh, a reporter working for the leading Hindi newspaper
Dainik Jagran, chose to settle his disagreement with India's
Home Minister P. Chidambaram by hurling his sneaker at him.
Standing barely five feet away from the minister, Singh still
missed his target. While Singh's question over those involved
in the 1984 Sikh riots was right on target, his shoe was not.
Perhaps he will practice some more at a nearby shoe-throwing
On a more serious note, the line dividing professional journalism
and political activism is not discernible but any journalist
worth his or her salt would know when they cross it. Muntazer
al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who in a sense pioneered this
practice of real time editorialising by hurling not one but
both his shoes at former US president George W. Bush, clearly
crossed this line. And so did Jarnail Singh.
While journalists have frequently blurred this line in the
past as well, there is something particularly galling about
throwing shoes. In the Asian cultural context, throwing shoes
is more to humiliate than to hurt. However, a sneaker of the
kind that Singh threw or the shoes that al-Zaidi did could
be potentially dangerous projectiles. Had the shoe hit Chidambaram,
there could have been a case of assault made against the journalist.
In the age of snap judgment and instant punditry on television,
old-fashioned, professionally detached reporting may be losing
currency in India and elsewhere. However, it is needed more
than ever before at a time when the world has become so fractious.
Throwing shoes is an act of rabble that may have a strong
YouTube audience but it does not really help resolve problems
as serious as bringing those guilty in the massacre of nearly
3,000 Sikhs to justice.
It is possible that in India's ever rancorous democracy such
a form of protest could help focus on issues which are sought
to be consigned to obscure corners of history. However, that
still does not take away questions over the professional conduct
of a journalist. Something about the incident betrays premeditation
aimed at gaining attention. One could be wrong about Singh's
motives but looking at the video and his subsequent comments
the act does not appear to be spontaneous.
Weeks before the country's largest parliamentary election
yet, such incidents provide tremendous opportunity for political
theatre. An irate and emotional journalist hurls a shoe at
the country's home minister. In return the home minister forgives
him in manufactured magnanimity. In the midst of all this,
the Shiromani Akali Dal has offered Singh Rs.200,000 in reward
for his "courage and bravery". It is bad enough
that Singh crossed that line. It would be even worse were
he to accept that reward.
This may not be a trend yet but journalism schools around
the world, if there are still any left, should introduce a
specific course in shoe throwing. These journalism schools
will have to invest in shoes of all varieties and develop
a precise science based on their weight, shape and material.
Trajectories will have to be studied based on the distance
between the shoe-throwing journalist and his or her target.
There is a whole science of aerodynamics waiting to be tapped
on what material to be used in shoes so that they do the job
efficiently. Schools will need NASA engineers who are able
to calculate to the last inch where a probe would land.
Too many shoes are missing their targets. Of course, the Iraqi
journalist would have landed his shoe right on target had
it not been for the impressive reflexes of the man in question.
(08.04.2009 - The author is a US-based journalist and commentator.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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