The murder of journalism

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July 2nd, 2010 Shyamal Majumdar

The little boy is crying bitterly after losing his father who was murdered brutally by a mob. The TV reporter obviously didn’t want to miss the“breaking news”.

The anchor sitting in Kolkata tries her best to show off her fake excitement – “It’s an exclusive, our representative in Nanur (in West Bengal’s Birbhum district) is now talking to the murdered politician’s son”. The camera zooms in on the hapless 10-year old boy and the grilling starts as follows:

Reporter: Where were you when your father was killed?

Boy: I was playing

Reporter: So you didn’t see your father being killed?

Boy starts crying

Reporter (looking at the camera): This is live and exclusive. We are talking to the boy. You can see how sad he is.

The TV channel starts beaming “Breaking News” in the background.

The reporter resumes his grilling: What will you do now? Your father is no more.

Boy looks helpless and says “ami jaani na (I don’t know)”. The anchor, who obviously have inflated eatimation of her looks and voice ,  takes over again: “We were the first to talk to the murdered politician’s son”.

This atrocity was being committed on last Tuesday evening on a premier Bengali news channel, just a few hours after a former MLA of the Communist Party of India was killed by a mob in front of his party office.

The anchor was giving a graphic description of the event, but suddenly stopped to say she is taking the viewers back to Nanur for yet another exclusive. The little boy had disappeared by then, but the reporter was ready with yet another “prized catch”. “We will now talk to the dead politician’s wife – again for the first time on national television”.

This time, the camera zooms in on the wife who looks dazed and is crying inconsolably. But the questions can’t wait: “How are you feeling, didi?” The “didi” just mumbles something, which is interpreted by the reporter as “she is blaming the Trinamool Congress for her husband’s murder”.

By the time, someone in the crowd removes the mike and waves the camera away, the reporter has asked four-five questions, only to get the same response.

‘Over to the studio”, says the triumphant reporter. The anchor thanks him profusely for bringing these “live and exclusive” pictures and says “we are going to show you the conversation with the dead man’s wife and son again”.

I couldn’t take this journalism circus any longer and switched off the TV. As a member of the profession, I find it indeed ironic that journalists who place so much emphasis on the ethical lapses of those they cover, are themselves so prone to sadism, insensitivity and feelings of grandiosity. How many of us end up exploiting those we cover and treat others’ sufferings as the raw material for our professional growth?

Going by what I saw on that Tuesday evening, the answer is quite obvious. To be sure, it’s not only the regional channels that suffer from this do-what-you-can-to-get-instant- TRPs. The so-called more sophisticated national channels also do the same.

Who can forget the classic question that a TV journalist asked the victim of a serial bomb blast in Delhi in which more than 60 people were killed: “Tomorrow is Diwali and you have lost all your family members in the blast. How do you feel?”

I didn’t wait for the response he got. Did you?

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9 Responses to “The murder of journalism”

  1. Arun Says:

    Correction: certainly not an isolated…

  2. Arun Says:

    Dear Sir,
    Point well taken. But West Bengal where I have worked for some time has this strange track record of mob lynching. This is certainly now an isolated incident. I remember a mob stormed into the house of an elderly couple and attacked them before setting the entire house on fire. In the incident, if i remember correctly three persons died — the woman, her son and another person. The man perhaps survived for the moment but seriously wounded. I have also done a stint with a leading TV channel in the beginning of my career. I don’t think the blame entirely lies with the media. If the society does not change, don’t expect the media to take things lying down. If the TV crew spoiled your evening which you would have celebrated with a glass of beer in one hand and chicken leg pience in another, turst me the TV crew has the support and backing of a vast majority of people than somed educated hypocrats. But indeed I wish you to write things like this becasue they certainly show where we in media are floundering. Best regards

  3. Freny Patel Says:

    Could not agreed with you more Shyamal!
    News reporting in this fashion proves nothing but naivity of “so-called” journalists
    Also makes me ashamed that someone from our profession can be so cruel just for what? a byline? a news bite?
    Competition amongst TV channels should not be at the expense of humanity or sensitivity

  4. geethajoy Says:

    Reporters are always trying to sensualise their news.They dont know what they are doing .

  5. Neema Says:

    Many congratulations! You have brilliantly brought out the insensitive and inhuman way in which the media - mostly electronic and a handful of print - handles human issues. I have been in the field and have seen this deterioration ever since the TV wave hit the media scene. Time and again my stomach has churned and i have turned away disgusted. And have equally asked myself the question: What can we do to rectify this? Really, some system has to come in place. Media sensationalises headlines even when their story is quite different just to get of those eyeballs, with no consideration to how it may impact the lives and reputation of those they are freely and irresponsibly commenting on. Twisting tales for TRPs. So, I would like to ask all those who agree: what can we do to set this right?

  6. Arjun Says:


  7. Dennis Taraporewala Says:

    Super piece Shyamal. I couldn’t agree with you more. This is pure murder of journalism and more so complete disregard for basic human civility. But then sadly, we (India) are not well known for our social sensitivity, understanding and care. The run for TRP’s is beginning a process of desensitization that is alarming. Perhaps the people need to be more and more aware, of what they are absorbing from so called “authoritative” or journalistic sources. Urge you to read an entry from my blog titled “Storytelling and Media: Boon or Bane?”

  8. Rahul Says:

    Yes I remember that Diwali question.. The great journalist was Barkha Dutt..

  9. bs gupta Says:

    How can we be so cruel? In the hope that they are doing it for increase d TRP, they don;t know that they are doing incalculable harm to the long term prospects of the channel. Viewers know what they want to see and what they are made to see. those who are weded to the professional standards will never resort to such cheap gimmics.



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