“…media persons can reach to the places where the relief supplies have not reached, at this point can’t they take a first-aid kit or some food supplies with them as well?”
– Sunita Shakya, a non-resident Nepali
In the aftermath of the massive earthquake that hit Nepal, measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale, India immediately jumped in to help its disaster-stricken neighbour. India “generously responded” to the “formal request” by the Nepal government, for basic necessities like blankets, medical aid, semi-cooked food, etc. So prompt and efficient was the relief and rescue operation undertaken by India that it earned itself praise from all over the globe.
However the rescue and relief operation has been marred by complaints about the Indian media with #GoHomeIndianMedia hash tags trending on twitter and almost every other social media. The severe criticism emerged on the grounds of alleged insensitivity and biased reporting by the Indian journalists in Nepal.
The resentment that started in Kathmandu was on its way back to normalcy with the internet connections being restored. There appeared a video on YouTube, which is what irked the locals initially, where the first Indian Military chopper was shown landing in Barpak, Gorkha District. Barpak, which was the epicentre of the massive earthquake raised some questions in the minds of people, such as, if the media could reach to such places why couldn’t they take along with them basic necessities that would have helped the victims such as food supply, doctors, tents etc.
It has been contended that the media coverage focused and highlighted only the plight of the Indians in Nepal, not of the nation as a whole and that the media highly praised the rescue operations by the Indian Military and the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) only. Though the efforts of the Indian military and the NDRF were indeed praiseworthy but the requirement was to help the people stuck in the disaster-ravaged nation rather than praising their fellow countrymen.
What was even more appalling was the ease with which the media personnel had access to the military stories. Further, this intrusion went to such rampant extent that the Army had to decide, not to take any more journalists with them as the competition between the different television crews only resulted in the media getting in the way of such relief and rescue operations. As this prolonged, the accusations culminated that there was no objectivity in the Indian media’s reports, since the claims made by them indicated Indian Army helping thousands in the remote areas however many local dailies and websites showed that it was actually the Nepal Army which actually carried out the major rescue operations in those regions, simply because they knew the terrain better.
The Indian news channels were freely available in Nepal and some have even gone to the extent of accusing Indian media’s coverage of the national disaster into public relation stunt for the Government of India.
The emergence of this resentment against the Indian Media coincided with the World Press Freedom Day, i.e. May 3, 2015. While the essence of this day is to celebrate and to create awareness about the importance of the freedom of press but, at the same time like every other freedom there comes along with it certain restrictions and responsibilities. Therefore, the act of the Indian media in asking a mother, who just learnt that her only son has been buried under their house, about how she is feeling or incidents where the victims of the quake were paraded in front of the camera but no help was offered to them in the form of clothes, attending to their wounds or in any manner not acting responsibly and in the spirit of its freedom so envisaged, not to be celebrated on the World Press Freedom Day.
In India, the freedom given to the Press is immense and is guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. However, with every great power comes great responsibility. There may arise many incidents which may not be illegal per se for broadcasting, but it might as well be incapable of being taken in good spirit by the general public. In such cases it is the responsibility of every media house to impose upon themselves, what is also known as “self-censorship”. An example of this is the Nepal earthquake itself, since there was no legal sanction upon the media house to bring forth to the public what was happening there but in doing so it was the responsibility of every media house to report responsibly and complement the effort of their military counterparts by helping out the victims in whatever manner possible rather than trivialising the sufferings of the people and non-objectively praising their fellow countrymen.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time that such allegations have been levelled against the Indian media. There were similar criticisms of the media coverage during the Kashmir Valley flood situation last year, which arose due to the overdependence of Indian media on access-based journalism resulting in many channels identifying themselves with the ruling government and hence, the bias became very evident.
Thus, the self-realisation that should come with the Media being the fourth pillar of the Indian democracy needs to be hefty and to fulfil this role, public perception is a primary concern. Whereas, the disturbing views of Pranoy Roy, Chief of NDTV labelling India as a ‘no country for honest journalism’ is definitely not helping in the public perception. It is of utmost importance that the Indian media identifies its role in spirit and substance and come out of its jingoism and “tabloidization of news” culture, and reports more responsibly.