Three men storm into activist Prashant Bhushan's chamber with the intention of beating him black and blue. And they almost succeed too. Right through the attack that lasted a few minutes, a television news crew, who were filming the advocate's interview in his chambers, recorded the attack. What is conspicuously absent in the televised images of the assault is the presence of a reporter or a cameraman attempting to help Bhushan.

This prompted a heated debate about the rather ambiguous parameters of media ethics. What should the media do or not do? Is the media's role confined to merely being a watchdog? And, in the guise of objectivity, can one remain completely detached when something like this happens?

The channel did, however, respond to the debate saying that the assault was too sudden for the crew, that the incident was over before they could do react and that therefore, the question of insensitivity does not arise.

Coupled with the ambiguity of when the media can and cannot intervene is another disturbing trend, of media's alleged orchestration of events. During the Mangalore pub attacks for example, television channels were allegedly alerted before the attack by Sri Ram Sena on girls in a pub so they could televise what the group described as ‘punishment' for violating Indian morality.

Should the TV channels have informed the police about such an attack instead of rushing to the spot with camera in hand? It is pertinent to ask: to what permissible extent must one go for that elusive exclusive? Or to capture events that would catapult one to national or international fame?

In photojournalist Kevin Carter's case, international fame eventually cost his life.

Some call it the picture that made the world weep: two black figures dot an arid landscape: one of a severely malnourished child, summoning perhaps the last of her strength to reach a feeding centre in famine-gripped Sudan. The other figure is that of a vulture, sitting on a rock, staring in anticipation at the child.

Taken in March 1993, he received a Pulitzer for the image, but also received criticism for not helping the child. After all, was he any less of a predator than the vulture?

Perhaps, this question too played on Carter's mind. Two months later, Carter's body was found in a car; suicide at age 33 from carbon-monoxide poisoning.


Couch Potato March 9, 2011