The first signs of a backlash in Nepal against the Indian media, manifested in the furiously trending hashtag #GoHomeIndianMedia, were evident from early last week.
As Kathmandu city began to return to normal and internet connections were restored, several locals began talking about a video that was up on YouTube about the first Indian Army chopper landing at the epicentre of the earthquake — at Barpak in Gorkha district. “The camera first shows images from inside the helicopter of the landing and it shows how people are running toward the helicopter. Then it pans around inside the chopper and all I could see was two journalists sitting inside,” exclaimed Sanjay Thapa, a doctor in Kathmandu. “I was thinking, if you were able to go to that place then the least you should have done is take doctors and take food and medical supplies,” he adds.
Indian TV channels turn embedded journalists
In the days following the April 25 earthquake, the competition among the several Indian television crews assembled in Kathmandu to undertake trips with the Army was intense. So much so that an official at the Indian Embassy, speaking off the record, had told The Hindu last Wednesday that the Army had decided not to take any more journalists on the expeditions since they were already receiving criticism.
Most Nepalis are appreciative about the speed at which the Indian government sent relief materials and rescue teams.
Though Nepal's envoy Deep Upadhyay clarified even on Monday that there was no negativity toward India, the predominant feeling in Kathmamdu, especially as military efforts shifted from search and rescue to supplying relief material, was that the media was simply getting in the way
The situation on the ground however, didn't change.
At the military airfield near the Tribhuvan international airport, arguments between Indian journalists and Nepal’s liaison officer, who was coordinating media personnel, was routine all through last week.
On one occasion a TV journalist could be heard rudely telling the officer that it was his right to go along with the Indian Army's chopper. “My countrymen are taking part in the rescue operations and it is my duty to go along with them,” the journalist said. Hearing him argue, a couple of Indian Air Force pilots even tried to intervene on his behalf.
What was created therefore, was a situation in which TV journalists inadvertently became embedded reporters. As more and more access was granted by the Indian Army, there followed a series of excited reports, about how the Indian Army was rescuing and giving help to thousands of people in remote areas. As they played on loop, the accusation grew that television crews were delighting in the destruction they saw and were covering the disaster like a TV serial. There was no objectivity and by the end of the week several local dailies and websites were reporting that it was the Nepal Army that had been making the majority of rescues, simply because they knew the terrain better.
A television reporter who was in Nepal, speaking to The Hindu on condition of anonymity, admitted that the backlash was the result of a “PR experiment gone wrong”.
“There were too many journalists who kept making trips on the Army chopper and that was not good. I also got the sense last week that because of all this coverage, many Nepalis had started feeling that India is acting like some sort of big brother,” he said.