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          Volume 11 |Issue 08| February 24, 2012 |


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A Balanced Story

Naimul Karim

Over the last few decades, there has been a shift in the concept of a 'good journalist'. The growing competition in the media field seems to have ousted the traditional journalistic norm of merely reporting the facts of an event, as objectively as possible. That is perhaps one of the main reasons behind the negative public perception of reporters in Bangladesh. And the manner in which a number of stories have been covered recently, both by some electronic and print media, does not help improve the reputation of the so called 'pillars of the society'.

The recent killings of the journalist couple, Runi and Sagar, have expectedly received maximum attention from the media industry. However, several analysts state that questioning Megh, the couple's five year-old-son, already suffering from the trauma of his parents’ murder, created a new 'low' in the standards of journalism in the country.

“He is a five-year-old child and it's not possible for him to understand or say anything clearly. He is traumatised and questioning him can further worsen his situation. It was seen that he was painting bloody drawings and despite that he was repeatedly questioned and that's just apalling,” says Dr Kaberi Gayen, Associate Professor, Journalism Department, Dhaka University (DU). She further implies that a journalist's job is to report the facts of an incident and not try to play cop. “These adventures taken by journalists are not required.”

Features made on Megh by certain media channels included stills, which showed how reporters directly confronted the five-year-old and asked him questions regarding his parents and his daily routine. Some of those questions include, “Can you sleep without your parents? Can you eat without the help of your parents?” While the reporters did a good job in displaying Megh's traumatic condition to the public, they possibly subjected the child to additional stress through their questions.

Dr Mehtab Khanam, Counselling Psychologist, suggests that in such cases, there is a possibility for developing a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at a later stage in life. “The symptoms of PTSD include re-experiencing the traumatic event, numbing of responses etc. Sleep disorders with nightmares are also common along with other behavioural changes,” says Dr Mehtab. She stresses that Megh should not have been questioned like this by the journalists and police officials immediately after such a traumatic experience. “A series of questions can only put him into more trouble since he is in a vulnerable state of mind. Trained psychologists follow different techniques for treating survivors of emotional trauma,” she says.

She suggests that at present Megh needs to be helped to relax, sleep well and continue with his day to day normal activities.

Sagar and Runi - the murdered journalist couple whose son must bear with the over zealous media. Photo: Star File

“Apart from being unethical, questioning Megh regarding the murder is illegal as well. There is a law that deems it illegal and the country has also signed an international children's convention which protects children from being subjected to such kind of treatment after a tragedy,” says Dr Gitiara Nasreen, Chair, Journalism Department, DU. She further states that media organisations in the country require a code of conduct that should be followed by journalists.

Shahahdat Parvez, a senior journalist from Prothom Alo, says that in matters like these one should have a good understanding of the situation and then proceed to gather information. “While doing stories like these, we should put ourselves in the victim's position and think of the possible consequences,” he says. “Yes, we are journalists and we like publishing human-interest stories, but in the case of Megh, one could have talked to his relatives and asked them about his situation rather than talking directly to him. Even that could have been an appropriate story,” he adds. In the same vein, Dr Gayen says that journalists should have waited for the full analysis before taking things into their hand. “They should have waited for the police report rather than mess with the child's mind.”

An editorial published in the Daily Star claims that the competition amongst media houses has increased urgency in delivering news, which often leads to unethical reporting. It states, “Getting the news to the people, and that too as quickly as possible, is a predilection that in most cases violates the principle of limitation of harm which often involves the withholding of certain details from reports such as the names of minor children, crime victims' names or information not materially related to particular news reports release of which might, for example, harm someone's reputation."

A severe case of tactlessness also shrouded some sections of the media during Rumana Manzur's assault. The assistant professor of International Relations, DU, was assaulted by her husband, Hasan Sayeed who shoved his fingers into her eyes and made her completely sightless. While a section of the media submitted reports condemning the brutal act, a large number of reports highlighted Sayeed's made-up stories of Rumana's extra-marital affair. An article published by the Star in July, 2011 states, “Whatever reason there was, the tone of the reports unmistakably implied that if the claim of Rumana's extra-marital affair was true, then Sayeed's brutalities would be justified on the grounds of disloyalty.”

Commenting on the issue Dr Nasreen says, “While looking for both the sides of a story, journalists should be careful. If a person is emotional and is accused, the man will obviously try to defend himself. It is the journalist's job to go discover the truth in whatever way he/she can. One should re-check the facts before publishing the story.” She further says that while talking to Rumana there were several members of the media who took a very insensitive approach to the issue.

Perhaps another issue that was handled in a questionable manner by certain sections of the media was the case of Ishrat Jahan Riya, a little girl who was strangled to death by her mother's lover at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH). While it was not immediately clear as to whether the mother was involved in the pre-planned murder, certain newspaper reports indirectly claimed that the mother had pre-planned the death of her daughter. A section of the media concentrated on the love affair between the girl's mother and the killer which ultimately diverted most of the blame towards the mother and at the end of the day raised calls for death sentences, from various readers, for both the mother and the murderer.

With the analysis of the above mentioned stories, it seems like a section of our media has taken the age-old journalistic proverb, “It's not news when a dog bites a man but when a man bites a dog”, too seriously. While the increase in the number of media channels and newspapers in the country, over the last decade is a good sign, one has to emphasise on journalistic ethics which is an integral part of establishing respect and credibility for any media organisation.

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