Indian media - this is a serious wake-up call! Pay attention to what Nepal is saying.... and change your offensive approach.
"Dear vultures, you've picked the bones of the dead clean. Go home now." This is but one of the politer tweets from Nepal that has fired up social media over the weekend. #Gohomeindianmedia has been trending with good reason. Let's face it It's time to own up and confess we have seriously s*****d up. Of course, not every journo is guilty. But most are. Why do we do this? We are serial offenders when it comes to antagonising our neighbours! We do it over and over again. Is it our arrogance? Are we such villains? Do we really not give a damn? Or are we just naturally crude, insensitive and clumsy when it comes to covering tragedies - our own included?
The people of Nepal see it differently. We have a mixed history with our neighbour. There is the troubling love-hate relationship to contend with. It has been there for decades. Our patronising Big Brother attitude has always touched a raw nerve. The April earthquake and its aftermath have tested the limits of this fragile 'friendship' between the two countries. And unfortunately, the presswallas have become the fall guys - Nepal's favourite punching bags. We are no good when it comes to exercising restraint during such crises. We manage to do it to ourselves at home as well. But that is our 'andar ki baat'. We can deal with it later. Right now, the people of Nepal are reeling... and they are furious . They have an unprecedented calamity to deal with. The death toll may hit 10,000. Valiant rescue efforts are still on.
These will continue for months to come. Putting the country together is going to be the government's biggest challenge, with zero quick fix solutions. How does one piece together centuries of heritage? The funeral pyres will continue to burn and smoulder, as families bid tearful farewells to loved ones. It is at such a delicate and difficult time that the people of devastated Nepal are pleading for the one thing they need the most - precious privacy to grieve with dignity. Surely that isn't asking for too much?
It's pack up time for desi mediawallas. Our ham-fisted television reporters must put away those intrusive cameras and head home before they risk getting lynched by angry locals.
"How does it feel.... what are your emotions right now?" asked an ill-mannered reporter to a mother crying uncontrollably over her dead child's body. What does such horrifying callousness establish?
Well... a couple of things. But the most serious crime being committed in such a scenario is the obvious lack of professional training. The thing is, anybody can become a television reporter in India. Anybody! All you need is a certain level of (over) confidence in front of a camera, and the dubious ability to keep up a steady if incoherent babble. The pressure to 'be the first channel at Ground Zero' supersedes all other criteria. Professionalism be damned. This is amateurism at its clumsiest.
"Stop your media-quake," urged another tweet. But did we pay attention to the anger and anguish generated by our gauche coverage? Nope. We were busy in a brutal domestic war - the fiercest one - it's called the Battle of TRPs.
So... whose fault is it that we have distracted attention from the good work done by Indian volunteers - the genuine ones - and become Public Enemies No. 1? It's not about hogging credit or grabbing the limelight ... a monumental human tragedy demands involvement from every person. We are morally obliged to ease the pain and suffering of the affected. This is what good neighbours should do automatically during an emergency - without a second thought. Without demanding applause. Without publicising the effort. Instead, we indulged in cheap chest thumping... we gloated and boasted. And Nepal holds us guilty.
Should Indian media apologise? Why not? If we have hurt the feelings of those we were helping, it's the least we can do. Nepal needs every bit of support the world can provide to get back on its feet. India's official response has been brilliant. It is the Indian media that has ticked off the people of Nepal.
There are a few lessons we can learn from the social media outrage. What our inexperienced television reporters need is a crash course in how to cover human tragedy. There are certain ground rules that must be followed. Nobody but nobody has the right to capitalise on anybody's grief. Cameras must stay away from mass funerals and display respect at all times to the dead and those in mourning. Is that too much to ask?
This is the perfect time for Indian media to invest in a constructive dialogue around self-regulation during calamities. Winning the TRP war is a petty triumph when what you lose is basic decency in the bargain.
(Shobhaa De is an established writer, columnist, opinion shaper and social commentator, who is considered an authority on popular culture.)
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.