A note on reporting on the dead
Afsan Chowdhury writes for DOT
It was 1993 and we were covering a street protest called by the Awami League which had turned violent. Several crackers/ bombs had gone off and there was rushing around by all. In front of us sat a young boy who had come to Dhaka to look for a job and found his limb shattered by an anonymous explosive. Bones jutted out through the torn flesh of his leg and he talked to us media workers in a daze, the shock overwhelming his pain. I asked the police man to take him to the hospital. “ Only after our injured guys have gone,” he screamed in fear and rage.
The stone pelting, explosive throwing violence moved towards Fulbaria railway station and we like mongrels looking for morsels followed the violent train of events. Suddenly we heard gun shots and ran for cover. We sat astride a drain holding on to each other. The man whose shoulder I held was trembling hard. He was a policeman. Fear of death is not the monopoly of civilians.
I stretched my neck out and saw young men in civvies shooting from the roof of a nearby building. We were held prisoners by the gunfire. Only after they disappeared did we venture – police, ferrywallahs and journalists. The situation was still on that heated February as we assembled to compare notes on death and mayhem on Dhaka streets.
Ataus Samad bhai’s tally
My senior at the BBC , Ataus Samad bhai asked,“ how many dead have you got ? “
“ We may get three but don’t report till you hear from me. Must have the same number. When do you send ? “
“ London will call at 6.p,m. + “
Around 4.30 he called me. “ I have interviewed the boy in the hospital. He is from Domar. Doctors not sure if he will make it. Mention that. “ An hour later, he called, “ Make it three. he is gone. “
Fat free reporting
We reported as we saw. Not an inch of fat on the reports. I didn’t speculate on the gunners identity, on the possible dead etc We had an audience which reached millions but we never got our stories wrong. Its because we didn’t play at being activists, politicians or social workers. Just reporters, no more, no less.
The loss of credibility that hounds media begins with the simple proposition that a media workers must change society or improve it thorough his actions. This is wrong. Journalists will improve it only when they do a professional job, no more, no less. Op-Eds are for that not reports. Sadly, our Editors too have forgotten that rule, playing many roles but not that of a professional journalist. At its worst, fake news is born. As I was once told, “I serve my country and cause. Nothing wrong with fake news”.