The art of Vulture Journalism
The term Schadenfreude would mean, malicious joy, deriving happiness out of others misfortune, which though not a new term, is being witnessed at a dangerously alarming rate in world journalism. For the past many years, more particularly past few months, a majority of the journalists are suffering from this symptom. Sadly, a group of Indian journalists and a bunch of arm chair journalists are sprinting in this race. The reason one says ‘majority’ is, there are still good Samaritans who believe in the ethics of journalism and follow it in true sense, which unfortunately are indeed a minority. This holds true in Democracies across the world where and even so more in India where tons of newspapers, TV channels, Journals exists.
At a time when the world is engulfed by the deadly virus bestowed by the dragons, the media fraternity is busy tarnishing and secretly enjoying the highest TRPs by maximizing its coverage of deaths in burial grounds of India or graveyards of Brazil. Jim Jones had said, “If we can’t live in peace, then let’s die in peace”, which gives the deceased and his family at least few minutes of solace to grieve in silence. Sadly, some media houses took their selfish interests as a priority to even make profits out of pictures of grieving family members. One “award winning” journalist in India even went on to set up her work desk next to a Pyre waiting to burn a deceased person. A question comes to our mind ….Is there no end to this Vulture journalism? Is the law blind on these types of journalists? What is even more appalling is the International media from the West relying on these sources for their footage.
The Indian Penal Code under Section 297 punishes those, who with the intention of wounding the feelings of any person, or of insulting the religion of any person, commits any trespass in any place of worship or on any place of sepulcher, or any place set apart from the performance of funeral rites or as a depository for the remains of the dead, or offers any indignity to any human corpse, or causes disturbance to any persons assembled for the performance of funeral ceremonies. Further, under the Indian Constitution, Article 21 includes- right to have a decent burial as a part of fundamental right to life. It only goes on to show, rule of the land for the life of dignity is bestowed to everyone, why would then the selfish media, use the moments of grief as a matter of opportunity?
Under the Ethical Charter of Photo journalism, point number 6 states “Treat subjects with respect and dignity and abstain from intruding on private moments of grief unless there is a justifiable and pressing reason for their public disclosure”. Even if this point was not listed, is it not humane to let the person die peacefully, without chasing and interviewing those family members who have lost their kin or making it even worse, covering the burning of dead bodies on their live telecast or flashing the pictures of minors and women crying at their loved ones’ demise? Is there no empathy left in this journalistic world anymore?
One could argue that news being telecasted with true facts and ground reality is a part of journalism, but highlighting and proliferating many folds only selected parts, creates an impression of spite and enormous fallacy. If the Government is deliberately hiding the number of covid test results or the count of deceased, it needs to be questioned, but to show burning bodies as a mechanism to prove the rising count of deaths is bizarre. WHO in its latest study has stated that ischemic [DD1] heart disease is the cause for 16% of the world’s total deaths, Stroke and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are the 2nd and 3rd leading causes of death, responsible for approximately 11% and 6% of total deaths respectively. Though this study has been calculated for a period from 2000 to 2019, but the year on year rate for ischemic heart disease remains almost the same. Further, it is the developed and high-income countries which contribute [DD2] to the highest rate of deaths resulting from ischemic heart diseases and Strokes. The basic etiquette of not taking photographs of deceased has been overlooked by many so called journalists including the media houses from the west. Don't post any photos of the deceased on any form of social media. Doing so is disrespectful and shows a lack of empathy toward the people who lost a loved one is an etiquette that should be followed universally.
The corona crisis has been one of its kind, especially because this happens to be a case of man-made virus, which has made it far more difficult for scientists to decipher its structure. Based on a research carried out by ‘Our world in data’, dated 5th May 2021, the five countries which handled the corona pandemic best were Taiwan, New Zealand, Iceland, Singapore and Vietnam, whereas those which handled it worst were USA, Brazil, India, Mexico and UK. The research concludes by saying that “It’s painfully ironic that the two nations that were hailed as being the most prepared for a pandemic – the USA and the UK – have landed themselves among the highest death tolls. On the flip side, countries that kept their COVID-19 death rates very low (such as Vietnam and Iceland) had previously ranked poorly on the preparedness scorecard. It’s clear to see that time is everything”.
For many countries across the world, it also happens to be first of its kind pandemic, hence the solution used by one country, may not be suitable for the others. A natural consequence of such pandemics is an unusual high rate of death toll. Unfortunately, there have been deaths, and those countries with better facilities have managed to store the corpse in refrigerators due to the overwhelming funeral homes, some stored them in shipping containers , some dug up old graves to make place for new ones, and those who believed in Moksha and curb the spread of disease any further, lit up mass cremations. The journalists should, in our opinion, pose the right questions towards the responsible authorities for both the mismanagement of the epidemic and deaths of the people, instead of focusing in which way the dead are stored or burnt. Once a life is gone, it may be only a number to the journalist, but could be the world of someone.
We need to seriously ask ourselves today, is the rule of land only applicable for common man? Are journalists now over and above the law? Have we forgotten the word empathy? Is being humane while reporting a tragedy an insult? Time to put back the TRPs rat race and empathize with those in suffering and asking for a helping hand.
References:  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/apr/02/brazil-gravediggers-rush-to-exhume-bodies-to-make-space-for-covid-victims  https://www.reuters.com/world/india/delhi-covid-19-cemetery-running-low-space-deaths-mount-2021-04-16/  https://twitter.com/BDUTT/status/1384059669375721475?s=20  http://photo-journalisme.org/en/ethics/  https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death  Chaturvedi P, Ramalingam N, Singh A. Is COVID-19 man-made?. Cancer Res Stat Treat [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 May 5];3:284-6. Available from :https://www.crstonline.com/text.asp?2020/3/2/284/287216  https://www.movehub.com/blog/best-and-worst-covid-responses/#four  https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-01-07/national-guard-refrigerated-trucks-help-manage-covid-deaths  https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/germany-italy-covid-victims-containers-b1776074.html  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/apr/02/brazil-gravediggers-rush-to-exhume-bodies-to-make-space-for-covid-victims  End of the cycle of life and death, end of rebirth according to Hindu philosophy
Author: Vineeta Misale Desai
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