The repeated coverage of bodies of the victims of corona virus by the media, especially the television and Youtube channels, has once again raised a question about journalistic ethics.
The 21st century journalism is a significant departure from the past as now print media has been pushed to the back. Yet there is something to learn from it. As I have worked as a staff reporter, sub-editor and then finally supervised as the chief sub-editor–the person who gives the final shape to the newspaper–in the Patna edition of the Times of India we were constantly reminded not to carry any photo of bodies of dead person—be it because of accident or any disease.
As a staff reporter of the Times of India I had reported from the spot a couple of mishaps in which a bus fell into river Ganga and another in Gandak canal. I also reported the head-on collision involving Mithilanchal Express with a passenger train near Ashok Paper Mill in Darbhanga district more than a quarter century back. Officially more than two dozen passengers perished in that tragedy. I accompanied with my photo-journalist colleague to the spot. I too had a camera with which I took several snaps which included that of badly mutilated bodies. They are still with me but we never carried these photos in the newspaper. We just carried the photos of mangled and derailed coaches.
I agree that not all those in the print media were strictly following this principle, some of them were violating it.
Later as the special correspondent of the Asian Age I got an opportunity to cover the Alliance Air plane crash near Patna airport leading to the death of 57 passengers in the year 2000. Two years later in another accident, 114 passengers died when Howrah-New Delhi Rajdhani Express rolled off a bridge near Rafiganj on September 9, 2002. By then, the television channels had arrived and with it a new type of journalism.
As television and Youtube channels largely survive on photo-support, gradually the journalists involved in them started overlooking this principle. Perhaps it was their professional necessity.
Showing such photos may be sometimes unavoidable. But how ethically right it is to deliberately do stories with bodies piling up all around. The anchors only apologetically would say that some of these shots may be disturbing. If it is so, why are they so busy showing it and create a sort of fear psychosis in the mind of the viewers? Such shots are bad both for the mind and heart of those watching them.
There is another counter-argument, that is, by highlighting these bodies they want to prove the discrepancies between the official data of dead and the actual figures.
May be, they are right. But the fact is that the rulers are so thick-skinned that you cannot change them whatever you want to show. Instead, it is the viewers who go in depression.
Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. The views expressed are personal.