Is media frenzy manufacturing news?
When Janet Cooke wrote Jimmy’s World, a series of articles about a little Afro-American child who was a drug addict all of America cried and joined hands to help. Except there was no jimmy, it was something the reporter had cooked up?
Jason Blair was the rising star of Journalism and the New York Times built him rapidly. Until they discovered that 37 of his 73 articles published were figments of imagination and plagiarized.
The desire to be first and break the news is now so overwhelming that the scoop has become a game with no rules.
A current story in India illustrates the global phenomenon, demanding the answer to the loaded question: Is the news being cooked up. War coverage has become a joke and anyone can say anything so that news is now filtered through versions depending on the writer’s moods and interests.
Plagiarism is one thing and is now rampant. Thanks to search engines cheating blatantly is now a habit in media. But cooking up news is fast catching up.
Is the speed of technology and the ‘insta-approach to media news’ so fleeting that deceit and lies can pass for hard news and no one cares nor are there consequences? Walk with me through this story.
Indian medicine is bitter. We do not deny that. Dead people kept artificially alive on ventilators so you can inflate the bill even as relatives cling to vanished tendril of hope. But against all the frequent inhuman acts that are photographed and dispatched as ‘shocking’ revelations some seem to be more than mildly questionable.
Take this horrendous latest story of the Ranchi Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) in the state of Jharkhand serving food to a patient on the floor because there were no plates.
The story comes replete with a blurred and indistinct shot of the back of the patient Palmati Devi who has a fractured hand in plaster and she is allegedly eating rice off the floor.
Grotesque? Of course it is.
But the point is, why? One sometimes gets the feeling these incidents are stage-managed. Palmati Devi would probably have had half a dozen relatives camped in the lobby armed with food. Even if she was alone there is no shortage of newspapers, cartons etc to replace the shortage of plates. Eating off paper is common. We do it in buses, on trains, even upmarket fast food restaurants. Banana leaves. Any leaf?
Again, in the picture are scores of people watching. This is not something where getting involved means asking for trouble. You are not going to be beaten up. It is just not possible that while she tamely ate food off the floor people sauntering past were not offended. Doctors, nurses, patients, security guards, none of them stopped it.
The reason why this is suspect is that as a nation we are pretty big on food and generally give it respect. And then that one photograph taken from the back of the lady in question and made viral. Why couldn’t the photographer have taken a video, a whole high def series of shots instead of this one indistinct photo in which the food has to be circled so that the viewer can figure it out.
Which then makes one wonder aloud if news is not being manufactured to titillate and horrify. In the case of the man who had to lift his wife’s body and walk 12 km people did not know what was in the sewn cloth so they can be given the benefit of doubt.
In this case, food on the floor goes so against Indian sensibilities that I would accept the aberration if the evidence hadn’t been so cagey and arguably contrived.
What stopped anyone of the scores of people in the hospital armed with mobile phones from taking the face to face shot instead of this singular snap.
We take a ratatatat series of pictures of everything these days.
You get something as mean-spirited as this and there is only a single grainy shot.
In a corridor of a public hospital, the largest in the state...it would have had the traffic of a railway station.
Maybe it did happen. But one has to begin to get a little chary about how much of this sort of stuff is engineered because someone’s imagination is running wild?
Ask yourself as the whole world watches this photo and the story goes global and embarrasses us by underscoring our savagery if you were in that corridor and saw someone eating food off the floor, fractured hand or not, would you keep walking?