The Fourth Estate

06 Apr

No news is good news. True, but for whom? If the frenzy of the various TV channels and the print media, to pounce upon and sensationalise anything and everything is any indication, then, no news is very bad news for at least one section of the society, the Fourth Estate.

Responsible,unbiased reporting and honest investigative journalism can indeed be strong pillars of a society and can act as pressure blocs for keeping in focus, that which requires to be brought to the public eye. Unfortunately, in the blitz of News, News and still more News, that we are now being flooded with, the veracity and quality of news, even the motivation behind a particular story seems to be governed by a lot more, or perhaps , one should say, a lot less than honest reporting.

There was a time, long ago, when I naively used to think that if something is published in a newspaper, then it had to be the truth, for it would be subject to public scrutiny and countered by those concerned, if it was not a factual representation With the experience of many solid decades behind me now,  I realize, that it is not as simple as that.

A year after the incident of the discovery of the remains of children , who had gone missing in Nithari, a small village on the outskirts of Delhi,  there were several visits to the area, by the media. Saksham, an NGO, who runs an informal school in the locality had many such visits, mostly because it was a convenient place for those wanting to interact with the kids in the area, who belong to the same background as those who had become victims of the pyshopath(s). The usual questions were bandied about….. how  they had  reacted initially, were they scared to move about now, do they stay put in their homes, do they go to the nearby park to play and so on and so forth. Then of course the one day workshopwallahs and the representarives of the media running around for their day’s quota of soundbytes and stories would conclude(, because that is the angle they had already decided upon) , that yes, the kids are living with trauma every moment of their lives.

And that is not to be contradicted. How can children not be affected by something so bizarre happening so close to them? Wha twas  not given focus, was  the fact that many of these kids faced trauma on a daily basis for a variety of other reasons as well…domestic violence, beatings by alchoholic fathers, uncertainty of livelihood, physical abuse and so on. In spite of all that, there is a certain robustness in them, an awesome joy that is locked up in their young hearts that forces itself through and blossoms with even a little bit of sustenance. That , sadly, is not featured , for to see that, one would have to spend a little more time than that assigned for a “story” for the next news edition, the “relevance” of which would be lost ,in a particular context, if not aired or printed in time.

One incident that occurred at Saksham during one of those”mediacentric” days  still has me writhing with anger, whenever I think about it. Stay with me on this , please.

A photographer, who had accompanied a journalist of a particular newspaper to Nithari,to write a story about how Nithari’s kids were faring a year after the unholy crimes,  had clicked photographs of several of the children . These photographs were subsequently used in the Hindi edition of that Newspaper, not in the context of the story that they had come to cover ,but accompanying purported   quotes on what different children had lined up for celebrating the ensuing New Year’s Eve.

Here are a few samples:

Ganga: ” New year ke liye hum nainital ja rah hain. Vahan hum apne rishtedaron ke saath ja raha hain.Wahan jaake hum khoob maje karenge aur enjoy karenge.Nainital ke packing abhi se shuroon kar di hamne. Bahut khushi ho rahi hain wahan jaane ka soch kar.Thand mein new year ka mazaa aur hi hain. Khoob choclate karidoonga aur doston mein bhaantkar maze se Khayyonga. Mein apne doston ke liye uphaar bhi kharidoonga”

Ganga lives in a small room in Nithari. Her father, who had been  a paralytic for many years, had  passed away recently. Her mother and elder sister work as household helps. Ganga had two other siblings, younger to her. She was  studying in the 9th standard in the Govt. Sr. Secondary school. In the evenings, she earned Rs,500/p.m at Saksham, teaching the basics of literacy to the smaller children.This girl was supposed to be talking about a nice holiday in Nainital with her friends?  The reporter hadn’t even bothered to match the(mis) quote with the gender of the person saying it. Or perhaps , he or she was a mallu?J

Nitish: ” New Year ke din khayenge, peeyenge , aish karenge aur kya?Aise mauke pe dance party se achcha kya hoga? Mujhe dance ka bahut shaukh hain.Isliye hum disco jaayenge, gharwalon ke saath. Wahan dance karne ke baad restaurant me khaana khayenge aur naya saal ka swagat karenge.”

Nitish’s father worked  as a mistry with a building contractor. He was  the only earning member of the family with four children. Very bright kids. The eldest , Sunil qualified in the entrance exam for admission to Navodaya Vidhyalaya and is now studying in the Gahaziabad school. Like Ganga’s family, they stay in a small rented room. Here he was talking about going to the disco and having dinner  in a restaurant?

Mumtaz: “New year har baar aakar chala jaata hain. Is baar bhi vaisa hi hoga. Ghar par hi rahoongi new year ke din. Apni pocket money se kuch paise bachaya hain. Unse mein garib bachchon ke liye garm kapade kharidoongi. Mummy ne mujhe is baat ka idea diya hain. Hume kisi cheez ke kami nahi hain. Mummy papa sab de dete hain. Doston ke saath milkar aisi party humne pehli baar rakhi hain. Isliye bahut khushi ho rahi hain.”

The father of Mumtaz and her brother Azharuddin, who has been quoted as saying that he will have a party at home, with his friends, is a tailor by profession. He works in a garment export factory, sometimes double shifts to maintain his family. Both of them are now studying in the 9th std. in the Govt. Sr. Sec. School. Like Ganga, Mumtaz comes to Saksham in the evenings to teach little kids, in a way, giving back what they had derived from there. The spirit of the quote, which says that she was planning to buy warm clothes for poor children out of her pocket money,   is very much alive in Mumtaz . I wonder if the reporter will ever come to realize that.

The above are a few samples. There were many more such misquotes.

These kids knew nothing of the words that were thrust into their mouths. It was only when some of their classmates at school started making fun of them, for talking big that they became aware of the mis-reporting. It was a huge shock to them and a cause for a lot of embarrassing moments . But who cared? They had their feature published on New year’s eve, which was all that mattered to them.

When the reporter was contacted , the explanation was that the English and hindi editions functioned separately and that she was not aware of how the mistake came about. May be that had indeed been the case. But somebody was responsible for this irresponsible feature.

I personally know several people in the field of journalism who take their work very seriously and have loads of integrity. But then, there are others. One would be well advised not to believe everything that is put forth as “News”.

P.S: Thanks if you read this through

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Posted by on April 6, 2011 in Reflections


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