#GoHomeIndianMedia: a Reporter Covering Nepal Weighs In

Published: May 05, 2015 10:29 IST
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In nearly two decades of covering extreme conflict and natural disasters, I have often asked myself whether it's right to be asking questions to people who have been badly affected - orphans, widows, people who have lost their near and dear ones.

How do I capture the magnitude of a tragedy if I censor myself? Is it right for me to curb my instinct as a journalist to ask first and think later?

The answer is fairly simple and frankly didn't need a great deal of soul searching.

We are all humans first, and reporters second. To stick a microphone into the face of a mother who has lost everything would be inhuman, unkind, disrespectful and a violation of every measure of ethical journalism.  And so, I have a basic ground rule in these situations - observe but don't ask.  A reporter's story isn't larger than the trauma of a mother who has lost her baby.

But in the lemmings-like environment of modern Indian television journalism, the definition of ethical journalism is not universal and an entirely new generation of reporters is willing to extend the ground rules of covering politics in Delhi to covering the tragedy in Nepal.

And so,there are reporters who don't think twice before asking mothers how they feel after losing a child. And there are networks that have 'Exclusive' scrawled across their screens because their reporter got onto a chopper first to get into an affected area -  the same chopper which could have been ferrying relief supplies instead of a TV crew.

But it's not so much the presence of a single news crew on a helicopter that bothers me. It's the content of what the reporter says which is deeply troublesome. By repeatedly stating 'We are the first into Ground Zero,' the focus shifts from the disaster to the reporter. Where are the editorial safeguards to stop this? Where the gate-keepers at a time when sensitive journalism has to be the norm? Are reporters and their editors so oblivious to the intense human suffering in an area struck by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake?

This is disaster-porn at its most crass. Get in on the big story, live in the high of being first in reporting someone else's suffering, and then when pictures of human suffering wane or seem to have run their course as far as the news cycle goes, run home, job apparently done.

Today, the backlash that Indian journalists face in Nepal has to do at least partially  with the ineptitude of several networks sensationalising the misery of people in affected areas.  And those of us who have no truck with disaster-porn are caught in the storm of Twitter trends that say #GohomeIndianmedia.

Twitter is a great equaliser - in the context of the Nepal quake coverage, Twitter trends have entirely failed to discriminate between journalists and networks who sensationalise and those who do not. And so, all Indian media is painted by the same brush, a brush often being used by armchair Admirals thousands of kilometres away from Nepal, folks with little understanding of the ground situation here.

That being said, there is an element of resentment on the ground and it's not because people who have lost so much have had the luxury to tweet or the inclination to be glued to their TV sets - there was, in fact, no electricity, so forming opinions of media coverage would have been tough to do!

What is true, however, is that the Nepalese are an intensely proud people. Fed up of watching Indian OB vans storm through the streets of Kathmandu, mic-wielding reporters in tow, they want the time and the space to grieve. People who I have spoken to have a simple point to make - Don't make a spectacle of us ,  don't keep repeating images of suffering.

So does that mean that there is a mass uprising here against the Indian media ? No.

People I have spoken to, people who have suffered so much have had the kindness to ask me and my crew if we have had something to eat, and if we are alright in this time of crisis. They aren't asking us to leave and neither is the Nepalese government.

(Vishnu Som is a senior anchor and editor of documentaries and special programs at NDTV. He has spent more than a week in Nepal covering the impact of the quake.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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