Monday, August 27, 2007

Reporting Terrorism

"Hyderabad Horror" screamed the headline on The Times of India yesterday. It was referring to the series of bomb blasts in Hyderabad on Saturday. Whenever we have any terrorist attacks or natural disasters, the newspapers vie with each other to grab the catchiest headline (to be honest they do it for good news stories too). This practice, though it seems a bit cheap to me, is acceptable. Journalism, after all, is as much about literary prowess as it is about news.

What is not acceptable to me is the presence of colour photos of the bodies blown to smithereens on the front page. The Times of India showed bodies strewn all over the “Laserium” in Lumbini Park. My sister informs me the other papers were even worse. She had to fold up her Telegraph in reverse to avoid looking at the photo on the front page (link deliberately not provided). What made it infinitely more sickening for both of us is the thought that we were sitting together on those seats, watching that 7:30 pm laser show on a Saturday evening almost a year ago. It could have been us in those photos. Do these journalists ever pause to think that the body in the photo was somebody’s son, daughter, sibling or spouse a few hours ago? Do they ever put themselves in the shoes of the relatives? Shouldn’t the dead be given a little more privacy?
Click to Enlarge
The “Laserium” in Lumbini Park is the largest laser show in the country and it attracts thousands of people everyday (This photo shows the laser show at Lumbini Park). The weekend shows are certainly packed to full capacity but luckily the place was relatively empty this Saturday due to rain. Moreover, a large part of this crowd is composed of tourists. When a terrorist organization explodes a bomb in a place like this, it is very obvious that they are aiming for maximum casualties, and they want to create panic, both among the local people and among the tourists visiting Hyderabad. When the newspapers present the news in such disgusting manner, they are actually helping the terrorists’ cause by propagating that same message of terror. If the reporters can’t put themselves in the shoes of the dead people, the readers can. I shudder to think what would have happened if all the other bombs hade gone off too, because I know just how crowded these places are. After these blasts and the previous ones a few months ago, anybody thinking of visiting Hyderabad will think twice.

I’m not saying that the news should be hushed up. On the contrary, the details are required so that we can be on our guard in future. The administration should be kept on its toes. But definitely, the line should be drawn while putting photos in the newspapers. In this case, photos of broken seats would have sufficed. The bodies weren’t needed.

The journalists' job is to present true news in a way fit for the readers. They should have remembered that those images of violence were not fit for everybody.


  1. There is no doubt that those pictures are difficult to see,however there are two perspectives to it.An emotional picture is an eye catcher and hence a seller...on the other side,its harsh reality ..and even the family memebers of those people are facing the same pain seeing their bodies like that as it is brought forth to us...anything less would degrade the gravity of the blast i guess..we need to be strong to face reality and prepare ourselves not to break down if difficult times come to us..awsome presentation though.

  2. I understand what you are saying about the images and that is what the general view of America is when it comes to showing pictures of dead, bloodied bodies.

    But there is another perspective, one that the Jews have with images of the Holocaust, that because that people need to see the reality of the situation such images should be unfiltered and shown in all its ugliness so that people understand what really happened (emotionally understand) and will be appropriately outraged at the acts of these monsters and more motivated to fight them.

    So, I can't say what is the better approach? I know that sometimes righteous anger is called for and if the reality of the images bring that about then perhaps the public needs to see them. We should keep the images from the children but as adults perhaps it is even our responsibility to see the images in order to get a better idea of the suffering involved.

  3. In the United States such images would never be shown. And that is a point of some controversy. For as much as we want to give the dead privacy many feel in such situations the dead need to cry out. What I mean is they feel that in such situations people need to see the horror for themselves to not just intellectually but emotionally feel what happened. Such acts should cause outrage and shielding these images from the public would do a disservice for it will limit the public having a better understanding of what suffering really occurred.

    I don’t know what perspective is better. I certainly believe that Journalists shouldn’t go up to the victims and their families and try to interview them in their time of pain. That I feel is insensitive and I would even go so far as saying it’s cruel.

    But as for the images, I am beginning to understand the perspective that says they must be shown. We weren’t there, we will never understand the full horror of the situation, but perhaps we do owe it to the victims to at least try to get as good a understanding of the situation as we can and those pictures are a way to more fully experience the reality of what really happened.

    I respect the privacy of the dead, but sometimes the need for outrage overrides the need for privacy.

  4. @monami: "An emotional picture is an eye catcher and hence a seller...on the other side,its harsh reality..." The newspapers give more importance to the "seller" part, and that's the problem. I for one don't need to look at those images to understand the pain of the families. Read my other responses below for more clarification.

    @gene: Have you seen the movie "Life is Beautiful"? It shows the holocaust in an extremely moving way, but I don't remember seeing a single bloody scene in it.
    Another thing: The Holocaust, was horrible, but it is history now. So if you publish a book full of horrible images titled "The Horrible Holocaust" or something, people will know before buying what they are going to find in there. I am not against taking photos, or publishing them to spread awareness. What I'm against, is using them for sensationalism and selling newspapers. As a compromise, the newspapers could have run the photos in an inner page with a content advisory outside. But no! They had to print them on the first page.

    @aj: You wrote about another deplorable practice of the journalists: interviewing the relatives, but let's not even get into that.
    I don't know if I'm different from others, but I can perfectly feel the outrage without looking at dead bodies. In the entire coverage of the WTC attacks that I saw here in India, both on TV and in print, I do NOT remember seeing a single dead body (some photos and videos of people jumping off WTC surfaced on the Internet much later). Did that matter? Not for me! I can totally understand what the magnitude of the attack was. I live in a country that loses the most number of people to terrorism after Iraq and I can understand what terrorism is. And anyway, that is the challenge for a good photojournalist: capturing the trauma without disrespecting the dead.
    Lastly, if you must print the photos, then you should have them on an inner page. They should not be forced upon unsuspecting people.

  5. fear, pain and the horror that comes out of such incidents are true. how can you hide from it? how can you know the intensity, acknowledge and not be ready to look through the remains of humanity? if the pictures snap the nerves... think of the people who have lost their relations.. think of people who go and investigate.. people who just give a helping hand... why fold and keep it away? why run away from reality and just be a pseudo-sympathetic person? the truth is there and only when the nerves have the strength to pump it in, can the people fight out the vices!! imagination and words can never portray the terror mars left behind...
    n ya.. these newsprint are meant to sell :) media makes the dough.. they make it thru a milind soman/madhu sapre.. they make it thru a ganesh-milk juvenile drama... they make it thru godhra riots as well!! they get awards for these snapz... that portray the so called state of humanity... have seen black n whit snapz of beggars n children on the street being praised for the photographerz eye- detail n caption :) india is a crazy country.. where u never know what lies beneath... the motive is different from the mission... where it hardly matters to most... the pain can never be felt coz we live a very selfish existence in ways we never accept.. i wish i were any better :) even i think of all the wrong doings that bug the days of my life :))
    u cannot have a news fit for anyone.. it is real.. u have to take a piece of it... and we can shudder but shudnt fold it back... cant ignore the present but try prevent the futures... awareness and shock can take us a shade nearer to those who lost somone their own...
    the photos are needed... i feel... they take u close to what happened but ya... the last bit, you have to walk... and we aint ready...

  6. @der Bergwind: My original question remains: why do you have to see the dead bodies to feel the pain, to face the reality? When you read 40 people have died do you disbelieve it? I myself have no problem in understanding the seriousness of the situation without the photos. Maybe I'm different.

    But then maybe I'm not. As I said, after the 9/11 attacks, I did not see a single picture of a dead body or a body part in the entire media coverage. Do you think that diluted the situation?

  7. Sugata,

    I agree with what you said, news should be reported with some decency. It should be honest, impartial, and true.

    The biggest problem I have with today's media especially news channels and papers is that they want to sell news, they are more interested in TRPs and money.

    The basic values of the journalism and media business is locked in grave. Here in the Germany we have only one English channel on local free cable, CNN. It claims to be international news channel. What we see in three different news show through out the day is Iraq war; bombings in Iran, Pakistan, India; floods in Caribbean Island, US and Mexico.

    It really gives the impression that nothing really is happening in the world for last 4 weeks which is good. I think they should rename themselves to Bad International News channel. They not only help America in propagandize against Iraq and Islam, but also help all terrorist bodies around the world to increase the intensity of terror.

    In last one month, only news reported from India were Hyderabad bombing and Salman Khan jailed. We were wondering is this the only important news to be reported from India? No wonder CNN does not have viewers in India.