The role of the media is to present the facts of any case, issue, or an incident before the public so that the latter can form an informed opinion of the same after hearing all sides of the argument. It is not their job to influence the public to choose one side over the other which is what is happening today. Nowadays, we are seeing that the mainstream media are regularly dishing out their opinion as news trying to influence the people in their line of thinking.
There was time when journalism was considered as a prestigious profession and journalist was honored but these days it has completely lost its aura. Vulture journalism is depicted as a “Peepli Live” syndrome, because for them more than factual data, it is considerations of TRP (Target or Television Rating Points), and also where their loyalties lie that drives news coverage. “Peepli Live” is a 2010 Indian Hindi-language satirical comedy film that explores the topic of farmer suicides and the subsequent media and political response.
Vultures usually feed on carrion or roadkill. In contemporary India, journalists like a vulture, sometimes prey greedily and ruthlessly on others, especially the helpless. As an idiom, “vultures are circling” means that the scavenger firms or people are waiting to finish off the ailing person or organization.
The St. Petersburg (Florida) Times (now The Tampa Bay Times), an American newspaper published in St. Petersburg, Florida, United States, used the phrase while questioning the ethics of a South African photojournalist Kevin Carter, who captured a photograph that is called ‘The vulture and the little girl’, also known as “The Struggling Girl”, depicting the 1993 famine in Sudan. The photograph was a 1994 Pulitzer winner.
Kevin Carter, while wandering into the open bush to take photographs, heard a soft, high-pitched whimpering and saw a tiny girl trying to make her way to the United Nations feeding center about a half-mile away in Ayod, Sudan (now South Sudan), in March 1993. For Carter, it represented a moment of opportunity and pain. Carter and other photojournalists had been advised not to touch victims of the famine due to disease, so he couldn’t help the child.
As Carter crouched to photograph the child, a vulture landed in view. Careful not to disturb the bird, he positioned himself for the best possible image. He spent 20 minutes photographing her in the hopes of capturing a photo that could shed light on the problems in Sudan. He waited for the vulture to open its wings – an even more ominous sight – but the bird never obliged. Eventually, Carter chased the bird away and watched as the child (who was actually a little boy named Kong Nyong) mustered the strength to continue crawling toward the feeding center.
The image was intended to draw attention to the plight of Sudanese people, who were struggling through civil war, drought, and famine. But unintended consequences — like a public outrage that Carter took a photo of this girl, rather than helping her — brought up serious ethical questions about if, when, and how photojournalists should intervene in the events they photograph.
It’s also true that all journalists are not indulging in vulture journalism. I have seen several instances in the recent past when a reporter or a photographer, moved by the plight of the subject, has taken out money from their pocket to help a migrant in distress. It could have been to buy some packets of biscuits, or for buying a seat in a bus to ferry the migrants to their distant homes.
Recently, we are seeing many Indian newspapers, channels, and news websites are full of images and news of group pyres in gory details; hospitals full of patients, disadvantaged families, helpless families roaming around, suffering from hunger, dying people, burning pyres, etc. We all know that there is an epidemic going on; we also know that it is enough to say that there is no control over the situation; and nobody knows what’s the right decision, but the result of showing just gross images is spread of panic among people, creating so much fear that even a healthy person can fall sick.
There are many journalists and reporters engaged in manipulating national tragedy to carry out their agenda. They go on to the extent of distorting certain facts of truth to make them look valid and convincing in their reporting as news. There is an unprecedented rise in COVID-19 positive cases in India. Medical facilities and infrastructure are overwhelmed. For a patient’s family, it is a battle to get the patient admitted to the hospital. And, the India’s health infrastructures are working day and night to save as many patients as they can.
The job of the media is to raise constructive criticism. But, the media is busy in creating a wave of panic. Media should report the size and spread of the epidemic, analyze the crisis situation, and point out the lapses, but also bring in, simultaneously, some feeling of positivity through their news channels, newspapers, and websites by also reporting the positive side of the epidemic:
- show interviews to recovered patients;
- give the real picture: how many are mild and how many are needing hospitalization? It is reported that 80% of the COVID-19 patients are getting cured at home with isolation and by following their doctor’s advice;
- let us know where to find oxygen cylinder or hospital beds, which they could do when they could air live coverage of election results by constituencies;
- encourage people to serve instead of running away from the COVID-19 patients by showing the people, trusts, organizations coming out to help out the patients and their attendants;
- bring in subject matter experts to discuss and debate on the issues instead of political rivals to shout each other down; and
- force people’s representatives to do social service instead of showing war games in studio.
I agree that events that impact a lot of people make them more newsworthy in the eyes of journalists. Giving prominence to the sufferings of people in media reporting has never served any purpose. Every death is painful and heart-wrenching, even if the country’s medical system is overburdened and doctors are toiling hard to save the COVID-19 patients amid an unprecedented surge of cases in the second wave. We need balanced reporting of all events. We need a sensitive media in our society.