Whither Safe Reporting

Author: 

Cynthia Chandran

The primary objective of journalism is to serve the people with news, views, comments and information on matters of public interest in a fair, accurate, unbiased and polite manner and language. But now with a plethora of news channels, news papers and new media creating waves, people are often confused as to whether news exposure is witnessing an abundance of unethical journalism. Mahatma Gandhi had said, “The sole aim of journalism should be service”. But unfortunately many a time this is being ‘conveniently forgotten’ by a section of the media and tends to take a partisan attitude. But at the same time, there have been instances where journalists are killed while on duty.
India has a vibrant and independent media, which is very powerful and bold enough to catch all without sparing any. But at the same time the paradox is that India has also got the dubious distinction of being one of the most dangerous places for  journalists to work. Currently we are witnessing a new breed of journalists who sometimes double up as activists ready to face the wrath of the people in power. The Committee to Protect Journalists(CPJ), an American independent nonprofit organization, based in New York City recently urged the Uttar Pradesh Government to investigate the death by shooting of 45 year old television journalist Hemant Yadav, who was working in Hindi channel, TV 24. According to CPJ, 11 journalists have been murdered in India in the last decade, all of which have been carried out with complete impunity.
Prior to Mr. Yadav’s death, another journalist in Madhya Pradesh, Akshay Singh, a television investigative reporter belonging to Aaj Tak news channel was found dead in mysterious circumstances while enquiring on the Vyapam case. Following Mr. Singh’s murder, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova urged the union Government to investigate thoroughly his death thoroughly and this stance caused much embarrassment for the infictors. Though doctors claimed that he had died of heart attack, doubts were raised by the media. Mr. Singh was in Meghnagar in Jhabua district to talk to the family members of Vyapam scam-accused Namrata Damor who too was found dead under mysterious circumstances. When we realize that close to 50 people have died in the Vyapam scam (an admission and recruitment scandal allegedly involving politicians and senior officials in Madhya Pradesh), it speaks about the gravity of the situation.
Coming to our own State, there have been instances of photo journalists as well as reporters being attacked by people who are in power. At the recently held Aruvikkara Assembly by-election in Thiruvananthapuram, my colleague and chief photographer, Peethambaran Payyeri was attacked by local UDF leaders. Reason focusing on the potholes in the road while the Chief Minister Oommen Chandy’s road show was staged at Aruvikkara. He was taking photographs of the Chief Minister’s motorcade in the backdrop of the rain drenched potholed road which resembled a medium level pond right on the side of the road. The local leaders who were on motorbikes, got down and prevented Mr. Payyeri from discharging his duties as they sensed danger that it would affect their ‘vote flow’ when the motorcade was bellowing out CM’s ‘care and development’ tagline. Fortunately, he was rescued by other journalists. The anti-climax was that the UDF candidate lost almost 2000 votes in that Panchayat.
Needn’t assume that assaults and killings happen only in India, foreign countries are no better and are witnessing similar scenes. Recently in Virginia in US, two local TV reporters belonging to WDBJ7 news station were shot dead in the midst of a live broadcast by a disgruntled former colleague. Reporter Alison Parker (24) and cameraman Adam Ward (27) were broadcasting a live interview with an official from the local chamber of commerce when Vester Lee Flanagan initiated gunfire at them. The shocked look of the news anchor still sends a chill down the spine. 
Recently we witnessed a horrific scene where Petra Laszlo, the Hungarian camera woman was caught tripping a refugee father carrying his girl child first and later a fleeing girl only to get exclusive images. The tall and lanky Laszlo was later terminated from her online news site, N1TV belonging to the anti-immigration far-right Jobbik party in Hungary. Ms. Laszlo, a mother of two small infants faced the brunt at social media in its wake and it made her apologize, but she is yet to escape from the wrath of prosecution charges. 
A journalist’s privilege includes the right to collect information from authentic sources, which are of use and importance to the society. The report has to be unbiased with the aim to inform the public. The Hungarian woman seemed to have forgotten her line of duty and became an activist taking sides with the police. When Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839, in his historical play Cardinal Richelieu wrote that “pen is mightier than the sword”, it definitely implied that the pen can cause people to change their opinions on a large scale whereas a sword can only change a person’s opinion by force which can be fatal. No wonder Mahatma Gandhi too had cited that an uncontrolled pen can destroy your intention. He further added, “If the control is from without, it proves more poisonous than want of control. It can be profitable only when exercised from within”.