The devastating news of Bhoja Air crash pierced the airwaves on local TV channels and shook many homes as the tragedy was captured on a camera. It was around 6.30 pm when the Boeing 737 crashed near Hussainabad on its way to landing near Islamabad, taking 127 lives — everyone who was on board that day, 118 passengers, nine children, five infants, and nine crewmembers.
The incident quickly unstitched the wounds that the Airblue crash had inflicted on us. And the media’s coverage did not help at all. One would expect reporters and editors to learn that the most important fact in a tragedy is not who breaks it first, but the impact that the news may have on human life. The continual lack of the media’s understanding of this is a tragedy in itself.
A news channel started off with showing passengers manifest, part by part, object by object, while another one lifted footage from a Hollywood film based on a plane crash and played that several times. Reporters from different channels chased family members, with microphones and cameras capturing their grieving moments, not seeming to realise that this was a gross intrusion of their privacy. One person who was newly married, and had come looking for his wife who was on the flight, was asked thrice by a reporter where his wife was going.
At this point, I was forced to think that maybe the media should not be allowed at the site of a human tragedy or a disaster such as this, since quite clearly, their practitioners in the form of reporters did not understand that they needed to show some respect to grieving families or passengers’ dead bodies.
Is it too much to ask of the media to sensitise and train staffers on these matters? After all, the idea is to report what has happened, what is the harm if it is done with a bit more sensitivity and thoughtfulness? Reporters and editors both need to learn how to report a disaster and if this is done, it could benefit the whole industry. We should not have to see newspapers congratulating their sister television channels for being the first to report an air crash — that is unnecessary and in poor taste.
Editors and producers should try and understand that the focus of reporting tragedies such as the Bhoja air crash should be on accuracy and authenticity of the reporting, and not necessarily on a race to get the story out as soon as possible.
Furthermore, the efficacy of conducting a transmission that carries on for several hours should be reviewed because after a while it becomes redundant. Besides, showing graphic images of dead bodies or body parts continuously, makes little sense, and in fact, may end up desensitising viewers — especially those who are children — to graphic violence. Perhaps, a long open-ended transmission is also one reason why news anchors, at times, end up asking pointless or inappropriate questions, especially from grieving family members.
Reporting disasters is a good way of assessing journalism, because it is usually at such times that standard operating procedures and inbuilt mechanisms to ensure that reporters and journalists in general abide by codes of conduct and ethical practices are severely tested.
Now is also the time to ask questions, but those that would lead to further uncovering of the truth and help the government hold those responsible for this tragedy accountable.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2012.
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