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.