Taking a hit

  • Journalists need to be trained to effectively report on disasters
Taking a hit

May 5, 2015-

On Sunday, the world marked World Press Freedom Day under the theme ‘Let journalism thrive! Towards better reporting, gender equality and media safety in the digital age’. In Nepal, all traditional ways to mark the occasion—such as organising rallies, speeches by politicians—were thwarted by the Great Earthquake. In any case, journalists, whether they are print, radio, television, or online, were too busy reporting on the disaster.

Meanwhile, Nepalis on Twitter exercised their freedom of expression with the hashtag #GohomeIndianmedia, criticising Indian media coverage of the earthquake. The anger was primarily an outcome of sensationalised reports by Indian television channels. Many of them also got their facts grossly wrong. A news channel, for instance, reported that all malls in Kathmandu had collapsed, showing a video clip of a building supposedly in Surat, India collapsing.

Many Nepalis have noted that the insensitivity of the media had undone the good work of the Indian government in helping earthquake victims in Nepal. Indians soon joined in the conversation, asking Nepalis not to send the media back to India as they were tired of these journalists too. Ranjona Banerji, an Indian journalist based in Dehradun, wrote on Scroll.in, a website, “As soon as the Indian media heard of the earthquake, bad journalism began. It started on Saturday morning with many anchors finding it difficult to fathom that an earthquake cannot be covered like a cricket match or a film release.” Media coverage made it seem as though Indian aid to Nepal was part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) promotional campaign.

Soon after, all fingers were pointed at the Nepali media, with the hashtag #GrowupNepalimedia. The Nepali media’s obsession with politics, its distortion of facts, and of late, imitation of Indian media were prominently discussed. Indeed, Nepali media has a long way to go. With regards to the current reporting on the Great Earthquake, many of us seem confused about how to go about it. To a public traumatised by a 7.9 magnitude quake, first, we sounded baffled ourselves, and then, we turned into cynics. It was only in the last few days that we were able to offer the perspective that was lacking earlier.  

To remedy this state of affairs, one way could be to train journalists on how to report a disaster, look for and verify facts, talk with a range of survivors and humanise stories—which are, after all, about people. To an extent, they can benefit from training to be mentally prepared to witness devastation and death. Even so, it will be difficult to remain objective and detached amidst unimaginable suffering. But sensitive reporting, with pathos and humanism, will not only save journalists from the wrath of the public in tragic times like these, but also help them document human stories of suffering, resilience, and hope more effectively. This is one way to ensure this year’s World Press Freedom Day’s commitment to better reporting.

Published: 06-05-2015 08:48

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