Saturday, October 19, 2013

Journalism that exploits

At about 5pm on Wednesday October 17, as I was running through a list of stories submitted by reporters that day, one particular headline caught my eye - Abused 4-year-old-girl flees from home.

There are many cases where very young children are abused, but rarely does a child that young actually leave! I read the raw copy submitted by the reporter and found that there was an accompanying photo to go with the story too, as police were hunting for the girl's parents.

The story would definitely make an interesting read, and a quick search revealed that other news websites had not published the story yet, plus 5pm to 7pm is the peak period when the website experiences heavy traffic.

In short this was a story that would definitely garner a lot of reads. However I decided not to put up the story just yet.

In journalism sensitivity is key

Anybody who works in journalism, and even those who don't, must surely know that when reporting on cases of violence and abuse against women and children, the identity of the victim must be protected.

The case of 4-year-old Nandini however is an exception. She was found wandering alone at an unearthly hour on Oct 9 by a good samaritan. After a week of trying to locate her parents/guardians, police finally decided to release her details to the media, in the hope that people who know the girl might come forward with information to help in the probe.

As such the story must have key details like her name, photo, age, where she was found. If not how to identify her right? Considering that such details had to be released, especially her photo, the way the story was put forward became doubly important.

Which is why I refrained from putting up the story on the website at the earlier opportunity. I felt that it would be best to let the newsdesk editors rewrite the story in a way that would get the message out there and at the same time protect the interest of the child.

It proved to be a wise move. The editors decided to run the story on the front page with the girl's photo and name - to inform the public that police are hunting for her parents. But the story was tastefully written, yes she was hit with a hammer and pinched with pliers. No longer being able to take the abuse she fled. That was the story we put forth to the public.


theSun's front page on Oct 17, 2013.

Read the story here
http://www.thesundaily.my/news/857564

Then I saw this! It appears that the whole objective of this story is to sell sensation rather than help the police with their probe.

The Malay Mail's front page on Oct 17, 2013

The story on page four of The Malay Mail starts of with
" IT was a horrendous discovery - a sexually assaulted, starving little girl tortured by unknown barbarians with pliers, spanners and screwdrivers..........."

Paragraph six of the article
" A police source said the initial medical report also showed injuries to her private parts".

The first paragraph might titillate a paedophilia or one with sadistic tendencies, I imagine the introductory paragraph was written to curry the imagination of readers, but this is a child we are talking about here! A child who is still alive. After all that has happened to her, the last thing this little girl needs is for the whole country to be talking about her, to have these details dodge her for years to come.

Paragraph six was totally unnecessary! The objective of the whole reportage should have been to help police find the child's parents, not milk it for every sensational bit it was worth.

In paragraph three, they have included the bit that police have released the girl's photograph to seek the help of the public to track down her parents. However the only photo in the article was of tools purpotedly used to abuse the child.


So why did The Malay Mail not publish a photo of the child? Cos then they would not have been able to turn it into such a sensational piece. Naturally they won't get into trouble for this, as both photograph and name was omitted.

But as far as I am concerned they are guilty nevertheless for failing to protect the interest of this child. This story is not a Malay Mail exclusive, it was revealed by police at a press conference to all the media, where a photograph of the little girl was also officially released.

They ( The Malay Mail folks) must have known that the photo and name of the little girl would likely be published by the other media organisations. I mean how many four-year-old girls who were abused could have run away in the same week right?

So anyone who read theSun and The Malay Mail on Thursday Oct 17 would have known it was the same little girl right? The Star ran the story on Friday Oct 18 with her name sans photo. So a big thank you to The Malay Mail for violating the privacy of this little girl and for putting forth a glittering example  of how to sell a paper.

Yeah I get it that The Malay Mail needs to sell copies in an environment that has become increasingly challenging for the print media. But at what price? 
 
On Thursday soon after copies of theSun hit the streets, we received many calls from members of the public, outraged at what the little girl had suffered, many of them wanted to offer her food and shelter, some wanted to visit her, in a nutshell everyone who called, wanted to do what they could to help her.

By the end of Thursday, no one had come forward yet with information on Nandini's parents/guardians. So we ran this piece on page four, urging those who knew the girl or her family to contact the police.

We in the media have access to a powerful platform, how we use it makes all the difference. Naturally the media is a business too, but we need to have a moral conscience, we need to be about values, about community and ethics.
 
theSun's story on Oct 18, 2013.
 A brave little girl

The story of the little girl who fled her home because she decided enough was enough had captured the imagination of theSun's readers. Many felt sympathy, but they also admired her for being so brave, how many children at that age would even think of leaving? The fact that she did, says something about this child.

Looking at her photo, one can see the scars on her face, but there's also a steely determination in those eyes.  Nobody stays a victim forever, I believe this little girl is destined for greater things in future, remember Oprah?  

A previous blog posting on a similar topic
Compassionate Journalism
http://jothijeyasingam.blogspot.com/2012/07/compassionate-journalism



Thursday, October 10, 2013

Who will win the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize??



 Pakistani girl-wonder Malala Yousafzai and Congolese rape trauma surgeon Denis Mukwege have emerged as strong contenders for the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize to be announced today.

Both are championing the cause of women. Malala wants girls to be able to get an education and better their lot, while Mukwege has treated thousands of women raped by militias and soldiers in Congo. His Panzi Hospital has been a refuge for rape victims for many years now.

Vocal activists and critics of systems that don't recognise the rights of women, Malala and Mukwege both escaped death by a hair's breath but never quit in championing their respective causes.

Escaping death

 
On Oct 9, 2012, Malala was shot by gunmen for defying a Taliban campaign to close schools in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Since her recovery she has travelled widely, giving powerful speeches advocating the right for every girl to have an education. Recently she has expressed a wish to return to Pakistan and become a politician with the goal of making education free and compulsory.

In September 2012, Mukwege made a fiery speech at the United Nations, criticising what he called the shameful 16 years of inaction by the international community and the Congolese government for the mass rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

On Oct 25, 2012, four men attacked his home, held his daughters hostage and attempted to assassinate him. His guard who intervened to protect him was shot dead. Mukwege then went into exile in Europe but returned on Jan 14 this year to a warm and rousing welcome. His patients had actually raised funds to pay for his plane ticket by selling fruits and vegetables.

International recognition



Mukwege has won numerous international awards and has been nominated as a possible Nobel Peace laureate many times in recent years.

Since her recovery Malala has been honoured by dozens of organizations, spoken at the United Nations, had a New York-based charity for girls named after her and was a runner-up for Time magazine’s 2012 Person of the Year.

Who??

This year the nobel committee received a record 259 nominations, which include 50 organisations. Several other leading activists are also in the running. The crowd favourite however appears to be Malala, the 16-year-old Pakistani teenager who has battled the Taliban's oppression of women so publicly.

If Malala wins she will become the youngest candidate to win the peace prize in Nobel history. Should she win? Not yet I believe. No doubt the image of a young girl wagging a finger at Taliban warlords has garnered  her quite a global following.

She is seldom not on CNN these days, on Thursday she was awarded the European Union's Sakharov human rights prize. Malala's fans I am sure, and she has many, must be hoping that this is a prelude to the peace prize.

Campaigning for the right of every girl to get an education is an important cause. Education can uplift a woman in many ways, but it won't shield you from sexual violence. I am sure the story of a young physiotherapist who was brutally raped on a bus in New Delhi is still fresh in the minds of many.

She was a bright student who had access to education, she was determined to make a better life for herself and her family with the education that she had obtained, but she died weeks after being brutally gang-raped from severe internal injuries.

More than ever in the past year, we have been confronted with the brutality of rape, apathy on the part of the authorities and a lack of deterrent laws. Which is why I am hoping that come this evening Mukwege, 58, the pioneering doctor who has dedicated his life to helping victims of rape will be the recipient of the peace prize.


At the Panzi Hospital, the victims are not just given medical aid. Once their physical woulds are healed, the next step of treatment is focused on helping them heal psychologically and reintegrate into their community. A legal team also helps every victim create a file of the injustices they have suffered.

In Dr Mukwege's words:

"Most of these women, after treatment, they become leaders in their own community. They are the ones who will save Congo. What they have faced is not just rape. It is a problem for all humanity."

Rape is indeed a problem for all humanity, whether in conflict ridden regions or affluent nations. Honouring Mukwege will send a strong signal to the international community that the plight of women and children in conflict ridden regio ns cannot be ignored. Secondly that rape is a 21st century malaise that must be eradicated.

Let us not fool ourselves that the plight of the women of Congo and other war torn regions is something that will never hit our doorstep, as we dwell in more prosperous countries. What is happening in Congo and Rwanda can happen anywhere in the world.

This world needs more advocates like Mukwege who has not restricted himself to only providing medical aid, but has gone on to champion the cause of these women, even taking on the governments of Congo and Rwanda in the process.

I hope the work of this pioneering doctor is not passed over by the Nobel committee this time around.

The full text of his speech to the United Natio ns in September 2012
http://www.panzihospital.org/archives/1027