Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Is news reporting more important than saving a life?

When Shruti [so did Venky and Narendra] had responded to my last post on the cold-blooded murder of Sub Inspector Vetrivel, she raised a pertinent question: "Is telecasting a news [story] more important than saving a life?" Now, I know that the question was not directed at me expecting an answer. It was a question to challenge the Mainstream Media, infamous for their insatiable appetite for scoop and sensationalism.  However, the question got me thinking!

Kevin Carter was a South African Photojournalist and a member of Bang Bang Club, which courageously exposed the morbidity and brutality of South African Apartheid. In March 1993, Kevin shot a photograph, while he was in Sudan, which won him the much acclaimed Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography and made him famous world over. That was the photograph of a Sudanese girl, crawling to a  feeding center. Kevin knew instinctively that this moment could stir the whole world into action. As Kevin was getting ready with the camera a vulture landed  right behind his subject, waiting for the moment of death. He clicked the photograph and waited for the bird to fly away. When the bird did not, he chased it away. He sat under a tree depressed, watching her struggle and smoking a cigarette. As he was sitting there, Kevin later claimed, he was talking to God.

Sure, the photograph caught the world's attention. It won Kevin the Pulitzer Prize in 1994. However, Kevin faced fierce criticism for abandoning the child.St. Petersburg Times wrote: "The man adjusting his lens to take just the right frame of her suffering, might just as well be a predator, another vulture on the scene." However, defending Kevin, Greg Sebastian Marinovich, another South African photojournalist wrote: "His job as a journalist to show the plight of the Sudanese had been completed, exceeded, in fact. The bottom line was that Lifeline Sudan had not flown in Kevin and João to pick up or feed children - they were flown in to show the worst of the famine and generate publicity."

What Greg said about Kevin is exactly what I would like to say about the unknown armature photographer who shot the plight of dying Vetrivel. He did not shoot it for fame and we do not know him. He shot it to show us the shamefully thoughtless and unsympathetic face of Indian Politics. I think I can see why no one tried to help Vetrivel. Perhaps, they were worried that this was the doing of one or the other Underworld Dons of Tamilnadu and they did not want to get into their hit list by helping an enemy of the Underworld.. And I think, the photographer helped us rethink about what politics, politicians and democracy should mean to all of us.

It was not the job of the journalist to help the dying man. That would be a form of Media Activism. His job was to show us that the people on the ground did not do their job and he did that well. On any given day, I would prefer media not getting into activist mode. Because Media Activism and Media Trials can make us go blind. Media Activism and Media Trials promote prejudices. As I said in my comment to Shruti, Media is a mirror and I prefer the mirror to stay that way and reflect. I would seriously like it if media kept going after their scoops and sensational stories than getting into philanthropy mode. As a citizen, that would help me think about and redefine my own role in the society. The bottom line is, telecasting that news was more important than saving his life if it made us rethink how we need to deal with our democracy.


  1. Just when I liked you last theme Masterji you change it ! :-)

    But need to admit, this is even better - I love magazine themes that show more than just the recent post in full.

    That was a very thought provoking question. I don't blame either parties. Very often with nature/wildlife photography people remind how they need to step back and let nature take it's course ; but when the situation involves humans and it is NOT nature's laws at fore (not a lion killing a deer but a human dying), it becomes difficult to not question why they did not help ?

    In the cop's death I can see why the photographer did not step in -- India, gang violence et al. I will be lying if I have not wished Mr.Carter had done something post that shot. But I don't blame him..

  2. Hey Sojo

    Excellent post.
    This incident once again highlights that Indians often do not value human lives.

  3. I disagree. If you go by that you cant blame the ministers as well which the media did. Because the job of the minister is not to carry cops of in his vehicle and to the hospital and that is the job of the hospital and ambulance. This is how the argument sounds like. It is only kettle calling the pot.

    It is high time we stop crying foul about politics we aren't better by any stretch of imagination. Either one should take to change it by their own or go with the flood.

    As far Madhu's "stepping back and letting nature deal with itself" I think we should be consistent with that. People insert chips, follow animals and vaccinate them. They Keep them in zoos or sanctuary, kill elephant to control population.

    The perfume we are using, the cosmetic surgery, flying a plane ain't letting nature take its course. For that matter most of the technology would have not come about if humans thinked like that.

    Media is having double standards one for them and the other for others. Before pointing finger one should know there are three pointing back at them

  4. Madhuji, I'm template crazy. That's why you see me changing colours. Moreover, tweaking the template is how I overcome writer's block.

    Considering that we are human beings, we wish at least the photojournalists helped them. But like you said, we can't blame them and intimidate them into not airing what exactly is happening around us.

  5. Venky, I would blame the ministers for not doing their job right. It is not about carrying the cop to the car. It is about seeing that a wounded man is rushed to hospital within the golden time. It was the job of the ministers to order the cops and officers on the ground to use a car and take Vetrivel to hospital. Because, as per protocol, the two ministers where in command.

  6. Say I am the photographer and/or the cmaera person (and naturally i want to be famous)could i not carry another MEDIA person with me to shoot me HELPING dying man...i mean wouldnt that make me popular?? lets face it..no matter how much ppl needs the media a dying man always needs a help more!!!weigh the two!! just to keep us informed should i shoot a dying man??

    wel on the other hand keeping us informed is also important..i mean what i suggest is carry helpers with you...thats all....its complicated..

  7. Naren, I can understand your concern. As a social being, we surely need to help and support each other. However, let us get our facts right here. We do not know anything about who shot the video [for obvious reasons]except that he was an amateur, covering the Ministers's programme. We don't know anything about him probably because he did not shoot it to become famous.

    What I would say is Media Wagons need not go around with first aid kits in case of emergency. That is not their job. Media is the fourth estate. They are there to show us if the First, Second and Third Estates are doing their job right. It may not be complicated if you start looking at it that way :)

  8. Hi Sojo

    Nice article. Highly debatable sensitive subject you have touuched upon.

    Back to the vetrivel episode, we should note that it was shot my an amateur photographer who does not have a backing of any powerful media and propably an ordinary citizen like you and me who lives with a fear of unknown during such events. Most of us may react the same way in such incidents especially when the higher authority are themselves just blindly watching. But without his timely coverage of the episode the event would have been buried and not raised any furore at all. It will be called as yet another attack.

    About the other professional photographers esply the one you mentioned Kevin carter. Ofcourse , it is his duty to cover the most sensitive and unpresented facts to the world at large. So he has done his professional ethics but then ofcourse I would have wished he did his part to save the kid too... You cannot expect a photographer in the war zone to try to make peace but at peaceful situation like covering famine one can do a bit to save a life dying before his eyes...

  9. Hi Lakshmi, Thanks a lot for reading. I think asking journalists to get involved in matters great or small when they are covering it is asking for trouble. This means, we are asking them to take sides :)

  10. Sojo,
    Theme experimentation was my fav pastime as well. Finally settled for what I have now after 2 years' of tweaks and tries :-) . Add to that I code as well , so it add another layer of unwanted headache ; shooting my own foot kinds !

  11. Madhu, your theme right now looks soooo good, so professional.I wish Blogger allowed themes like Wordpress.

  12. Amazing blog and very interesting stuff you got here! I definitely learned a lot from reading through some of your earlier posts as well and decided to drop a comment on this one!