A teenager girl in Guwahati is attacked by a group of twenty rowdy youths. They apparently strip her, beat and attempt to molest her. This was being witnessed obviously, among others, by a reporter/photographer of a channel called News Line, who videographed the shocking scene which was then shown on the screen. He has come in for strong criticism. “This is not an isolated tragic occasion when the people of this country saw humanity going for a toss allegedly to score a High Target Rating Point (TRP)” reported Deccan Herald (21 July). The specific charge was that insteading shooting the event, the photographer should have gone to the rescue of the girl and should specifically have called up the police.
According to Deccan Herald the event took place “late at night” and “outside a pub”. Several questions arise here. One, how late is “late at night”? 11 p.m.? Midnight? Past midnight? 1 a.m? Two, what was the girl doing in a pub ‘late at night’? was she alone? Was she accompanying her boy friend? Or did she come along with another girl? Were her parents aware of how she spent her time? Again were there no security men at the pub? Even if there weren’t any, wasn’t the male staff watching what was going on right in front of their shop? Wasn’t it their duty to call the police? Again we learn that the pub was situated right on the city’s main road. Surely there were people around who could have interfered in the on-going fight? The point is made that whatever the other factors, a photographer has no business to film a molestation scene when his humane duty would be attacking the molesters. At this point other questions arise, does a photographer need to have telephone numbers or mobile number of cops so he can alert them in times of distress and get them on duty in an emergency? Deccan Herald quotes one Ranjan Kumari, Director of Centre for Social Research as saying that media persons, too have “social responsibility”, Considering that they are also “human beings” and given a choice between filming a disaster and trying to avoid it, they should prefer the second option? At the same time, Deccan Herald has quoted one Vijay Nayak, General Secretary of the Editors Guild of India (EGI) as saying that “the primary responsibility of the TV journalist is to make an effort to save a girl from the clutches of the hooligans while being “equally responsible for covering the incident and bringing it before the people of the country”. This is humbug. No reporter can do both. This is an extremely sensitive issue. In this particular case, with twenty drunken rowdies involved, any interference on the part of the photographer would have ended up with his head being smashed and his camera broken. Ranjan Kumari has also been quoted as saying that “during the protest against Mandal report, a person committed self immolation and media kept filming the tragic incident, instead of stopping the person from committing sucide. Was there no one else around when the person was setting himself on fire? Surely there were and they could have taken some action? Why always blame the reporter? (In this particular case of girl molestation in Guwahati the charge is that, the photographer himself was instingating the mob to molest the teenager). Was it being done openly right in the presence of the bar-tender and if that was the case why didn’t the person call the police?
According to The Hans India (21 July) the TV journalist has resigned, as also the channel’s editor-in-chief. but the main issue must still be faced, howsoever embarrassing it is. The issue is simple. Should a photographer film a distressing scene or should be first make all effort to prevent it from taking place? Is it as simple a case like humanitarianism versus professionalism? Is it strictly a matter of idealism versus personal consciousness? It is easy to charge electronic news channels with attemping to score high TRP through indulging in questionable news coverage, and “misplaced professionalism”, but one has also to understand and appreciate a reporter’s or photographer’s dilemma. And let this be remembered, events like self-immolation or girl molestation do not take place in the privacy of a hotel room; they take place in open space and often in the presence of many people? Can we then blame only a photographer?
In the case of the Guwahati girl would the world have known what had happened if the photographer had not videographed the offensive scene? One must be grateful to him for what he had done instead of damning him. There is a growing demand that the electronic media should be brought under the purview of the Press Council of India. How would that help? One is reminded of a film that was extensively shown round the country, following the Godhra riots, of many men raping a Muslim woman.
The man who shot the film was praised to the skies,. No one asked why he hadn’t intervened to save the woman’s honour. The aim was to damn the Narendra Modi administration as being anti-Muslim. The man who made the film was not damned for being party to brutality. The film received great publicity, and the producer was praised for unveiling brutal Hindu communalism. We have strange ideas of right and wrong. One can’t imagine a teenage girl going to a pub and staying there till late at night all by herself. Surely she must have had a companion to accompany her? Did he desert her? Was her behaviour becoming insufferable? In that case why had not the pub owners quietly summoned the police before the matter went out of hand? Then again why should not the government insist that no pub should serve liquor say, after 9 pm? And wouldn’t it be a wiser thing to lay down a rule prohibiting unaccompanied teenagers of even older women from being served liquor?
Drastic changes are taking place in Indian society that command attention. Many things are taken for granted. It is difficult to believe, but one Delhi daily in its city section (July 20) allowed two pictures, one on page 1 and another on page 7 exhibiting female nudity. Why blame the electronic media alone? The print media too has much to explain. Justice Khatju chairman of the Press Council of India frest and fumes, but what has he done to control the media? Is anybody listening? How sick can we allow the print media to be?