Guwahati shame: How a news channel dumped ethics for TRP

by Jul 17, 2012

When it's TRP vs journalistic ethics, the result is a no-brainer. TRP wins all the time. Get a rival television channel in the mix, all respect for ethics go for a toss. The dignity of a girl thrown among wolves no more stays the primary concern of the journalists.

There were several lapses by Assamese news channel Newslive in its handling of the Guwahati molestation incident. But given the character of our TRP-hungry universe of the television, it is difficult to imagine any other channel would have been sharply different. That the reporter concerned has quit his job and the channel’s editor-in-chief has put in his papers are a small solace. The bigger question involved in the episode still rankle.

The first mistake. The reporter concerned failed to inform the police immediately after noticing the plight of the girl. He chose to summon the cameraman of the channel instead. It is possible he did a service to the society by capturing the faces of the culprits on camera—this is what Newslive claimed later—but it still does not take away the guilt that he allowed the torture to happen for 30-odd minutes without intervening.

Former Newslive editor-in-chief Atanu Bhuyan. Image courtesy PIB

The second mistake. Instead of having a humane approach towards the already shattered girl the reporter seeks details about her – her name and address etc. The footage in possession of Firstpost shows he asked the girl about her college and class too. If Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) leader Akhil Gogoi's video footage is to be believed, the reporter was clearly heard shouting to someone to bring the girl towards the light so that the video quality gets better. And the camera angles? They bordered between soft and hard core porn, sources said.

This video shows how the Newslive reporter got the girl to reveal her identity during the incident. Source: YouTube

As if this was not enough, the gatekeeper—the editorial desk in this case—chose to trivialise the issue rather than take a serious view of a girl getting harassed by a mob. On day one, it was looking to sensationalise the issue and garner TRPs by peddling voyeurism.

The third mistake. On day one of the broadcast, the channel sought to justify the mob’s action, saying the public was teaching the drunken girls creating a raucous on the streets of Guwahati a lesson. According to its interpretation of the incident, the girls were the guilty party since they were drunk and the public were justified in misbehaving with them. It had no qualms about discussing the name and address of the girl either.

It changed the narrative on day two though. The channel conducted a panel discussion and brought in the humanity and insensitiveness angles. It did not miss highlighting the great service it had done by getting the culprits on camera. But the damage was done.

The fourth mistake: tweets by the channels editor-in-chief. Tweets like—'Prostitutes form a major chunk of girls who visit bars and night clubs'—and the two of the three "girl in city" series videos uploaded on YouTube and promoted on Twitter were enough to shock the twitterati. While the first part was removed for inappropriate content, the second part ended with the question from where the girls got the courage to drink in a city bar at night.

The fifth mistake: It was the decision to use the incident against rival channel DY365. It identified the main culprit as someone associated with the rival channel and went on repeating the point. DY365 struck back soon with the help of the KMSS chief, Gogoi. It was a big mess for Newslive after that.

The sixth mistake: Newslive claims to have collected CCTV footage from Club Mint Bar, the pub where the victim reportedly had drinks before the incident happened. The footage showed how the girls (the victim and her friends) allegedly created an unruly scene in the bar. There were fights and even inappropriate moves. In the voice over accompanying the footage, the channel said that no Newslive reporter was present inside the bar. The channel said the fight among the girls only shifted to the streets and it was then that the reporter in question appeared. Possibly, the channel is fighting hard to refute the charge that its reporter instigated the public, as accused by the rival channel. Insensitivity again. Why use the girls to protect the reporter?

As you dig deeper, more such violation of journalistic ethics might surface. But the experience of the now discredited Newslive should be a lesson to all. TRP is alright but the mad competition for it could be dangerous too.

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