August 05, 2005

Ethics of it

The deluge last week was a major news story; as were such previous disasters as the tsunami, 9/11, the Kutch quake and many others. Such events often bring out the best in sections of the press. Strangely, they also seem to bring out the worst in others.

We've already heard that some TV channels aired old footage -- whether of previous downpours or from earlier in this one -- over and over. After 9/11, plenty of people pointed out that the dancing Palestinians that some US TV channels put on air, implying that they were celebrating the terrorism, was actually footage shot years before. And it's not just that TV channels reuse old footage, it's also that they often run it in an endless loop. So you quickly begin to recognize the scenes of submerged cars, or trudging commuters, or animal carcasses. Because you saw them only a few seconds previously, and will see them again in a few seconds.

Ambitious channels, anxious to find any edge over their competitors? But it happens with ambitious journalists too. Some make up stories of their conversations with the families of soldiers killed in wars. Others fudge dates or places to make it seem like they were there; or rewrite a more diligent colleague's coverage to pass it off as their own. Some even steal from themselves: I know a journalist who has written about an experience from a previous deluge, language carefully chosen to imply that it had happened this time, to imply that this person was out in the rains this time.

Which this person was not.

How much of this is unethical? Is a minute-long loop of footage unethical?

But more important, given the payoff, does ethics matter? After all, how many viewers will realize that the footage on their screens is old? How many readers will know that the vivid experience they are reading of actually happened years before? Few, and that's the point. Because what, really, is the risk? A trifle. And when you're ambitious, you take that risk.

And if the few find out, what can they really do? The report is out there, seen and marvelled at. That's all that matters. Not the ethics.


Anita said...

Interesting that you should pose the same question that I and my friend have been arguing about on chat for the past hour.

I dont think any layperson would take the trouble to let the media channel know , it has been playing dirty by reusing old footage. The ones who do will in all probability never find their letter featured on letters to editor or the channel.

Ethics does matter but only to the few nicompoops like me who wring our hands in despair and crib about how media can be so manipulative and feel ashamed to be part of the bandwagon. Then I remind myself at least I am not like that, read your blog and feel good there are still some for whom ethics matter.

All this sure got me in the mood to write now. Read my blog for more on this.

Anonymous said...


Excellent point.

I discussed something very similar on a blog recently

Check it here

Anonymous said...

A friends dad travlled from pune to mumbai on monday,taking less than the norml time taken on an ordinary day because of sparse traffic,only to reach home to find NDTV 24/7 goin on and on bout how badly the mumbai -pune expressway was affected and flooded.!!!Gross distortion of facts!

24/7 lying..that's what they do.Of course i don't want to get started on the fact that the were showing Tuesday's footage the whole week..gah!

Dilip D'Souza said...

Anita, perhaps we laypersons should take the trouble to let the channels, or whoever else, know. That has been known to shake things up at times.

Uma, how can they live with themselves? Much the same way as any number of us who do less-than-honest things do, I imagine! And they live pretty well too.

R. said...

I agree with Uma on this, this is just sick!!

Anonymous said...

Iam a victim of our judicial system where accused himselfhas agreed that he commited the crime but instead of punishing the accused the juduciary has punished the victim/complainant I dont know whom to contact and tell my plight I have sent the mails to supreme court also butof no use sorry I may be at a wrong place but please do guide me